Social Media Isn’t A Magic Loogie

@Kevin | Strategy

Once again I am behind on commenting about something I saw posted that got my dander up. (Does anyone make references to their dander anymore?) Business Week had a post called, “Beware Social Media Marketing Myths” that was geared towards the small business owner and some of misleading thoughts on social media.

While I don’t think the author Gene Marks was completely off the mark there were a few points that I disagreed with. In fact I think he contradicts himself in one section.

Before I critique the article I just want to state that social media isn’t the end all and be all. Sure some of the communication tools we are seeing are revolutionary. Social Media has the ability to connect you to a customer in new ways as well as helping you get your message and thoughts out there. It can drive traffic, brand your company, build awareness, give you feedback, give you ideas, collaborate, and many other things. None of this can happen though without a plan, without having a strong vision and goal, and without having a strong business.

Social media doesn’t fix all ills.  You can just decide to use it overnight and then have a magic flood of customers. People use the term magic bullet or silver bullet; I prefer magic loogie, just because it gives me an excuse to post this:

I think that is what is at the heart of this post. However I disagree with a few points.

First off he starts the post off talking about comedian Jim Gaffigan and his deft use of social media. Sure Gaffigan is a hip little reference and success story but the author used the example to belittle social media when he explains how Gaffigan uses it and how it won’t work for business. It would be like me going to a client and telling them how Tila Tequila uses social media, it is a poor example, well unless you are using it display the impact of social media for entertainers. No two people use social media the exact same way, everyone has different reasons, techniques, and habits. Comparing business usage to an entertainers doesn’t make sense.

Besides the poor example I was really annoyed by how he cited some states in his closing paragraph..

“5. Social networking is the future.

Really? Some of these cool and trendy sites aren’t going to be so cool and trendy in the near future. The percentage of Twitter users in a given month who return the following month has languished below 30% for most of the past year, according to Nielsen Wire. And MySpace recently suffered a decline in monthly visitor traffic.”

Want to state where MySpace traffic is overall? While it is declining it is still one of the top ten most visited sites on the Internet. It is like Disneyland having a slow month then saying they are on the verge of becoming a place where nobody goes. Plus for every stat for a decline in social media growth I can show you three that shows different sites from Facebook to other social media sites growing. Trying to paint it as a declining trend is pretty weak. Why not just quote the traffic statistics from Friendster and use that to support your argument? (Where is that sarcasm font?)

Finally my biggest pet peeve with this post is that he flat out gives poor advice. While he gets point four correct saying, “I’ve learned from other smart business owners that social communities are not for marketing. They’re for service.” While I don’t think that is cut and dry, I think there is obviously some marketing that can go on, I do think that it is primarily a service tool because if you just do straight marketing you will fail. However if it is a service tool than what he said in point number three is wrong,

“3. You need to be on all the big sites.

Besides spending a lot of time and effort, business owners I know who have succeeded with social networking sites generally focus on just a few of them.”

Sure you should focus your time and effort on the networks that are going to give you the biggest return but not being on all the big sites is a strategic error for most businesses. From a brand management and protection standpoint you need to be on these networks, end of story. What really gets me though is that this directly conflicts with point number four. If this is a service tool why are you not at least having a small presence on these sites if they could potentially be your customers preferred way to communicate.

Take Twitter for example. As a small to medium sized business owner you may not have the time or desire to use Twitter multiple times a day. But monitoring your brand, company, or product on there and having a mechanism to respond is important. Just because you don’t want to use the tool or the site doesn’t mean that the conversation about you isn’t occurring. Waiting to register an account just to respond to something heinous just stinks of desperation and a lack of preparedness, you need to have a foothold on the major social networks.

In the end I am an advocate of social media but I am a realist as well. However making sweeping generalizations or not really giving small business owners a proper view of how to approach social media is a disservice to them.

What do you think about the article?

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