Social Enterprise

Antisocial media: Is this social media stuff really the future?

Hype aside, what does social media mean and how should a savvy executive approach it? Here are some suggestions from Executive Consultant Patrick Gray.

Over the past few months several friends and colleagues of mine have had their Twitter or Facebook accounts hacked, which was generally easily identified when fairly businesslike individuals sent out messages extolling the reader to click a link with a trite comment like "LOL." The link, of course, would download a virus or other unsavory character to the computer of anyone who clicked on it, and as one of those people unraveled the mess social media got him into, he wondered aloud whether any of this stuff was actually worthwhile.

If you buy the party line, social media is going to do everything from astronomically increase the sales of every product under the sun, to breaking the grip of ruthless dictatorships around the world. As the hype grows to a fever pitch, you could be excused for thinking that riches, enlightenment, and the dawn of world peace in our time will come moments after you log in to Twitter for the first time.

Social media is in that technical toddler stage, much like the Web in the late 1990s. Back then the thinking went that a mere presence of something between "www" and ".com" would bring instant success, and so too ring the claims of the Twitterphiles. This too will subside. So, hype aside, what does social media mean and how should a savvy executive approach it? I suggest the following:

Understand your market

While social media is a new medium, its newness does not preempt the traditional rules of marketing. Whether you're attempting to "sell" yourself as an industry expert or build buzz and kick start sales of that new breakthrough product, you must determine who the likely buyers are, whether or not they hang out on the social media circuit, and how to generate content that appeals to them. If you are attempting to market yourself as an imminently knowledgeable and employable CIO, your audience might not care about your child's soccer game, that wonderful burrito you just tore through and its associated aftereffects, or your epic struggles to complete the monthly TPS report.

There is madness afoot

The assumption that you will attract dedicated followers in the social media space is generally correct, but that can be a double-edged sword. For example, I tracked the social media response of a recently introduced motorcycle. The product was met with accolades and excitement as details of it leaked, then was rapidly and scathingly panned by these obsessive followers. Those most passionate about the product dismissed the most minor details, lambasting the manufacturer for not including esoteric and expensive components, while simultaneously complaining long and loud about the "shockingly high" proposed price. In short order, the only product that would have satisfied this bunch would have been a Ferrari sold at a Hyundai price. Imagine the peril should the manufacturer in question have taken this advice to heart. A money-losing, difficult-to-produce niche product, loaded with features that appealed to only the most technical and actually adversely affected rideability for the average user, would have resulted in a nightmare scenario for any company.

Tweet, don't repeat

If you spend a few moments on Twitter you will hear the phrase "retweet," which simply means repeating someone else's Twitter post (called a tweet), generally when it is a compelling snippet or link. If you are merely a hobbyist, repeating the tweets of others may be a fine way to experiment, and many on Twitter have developed legions of followers by merely aggregating and recycling the thoughts of others.

While this is fine for the hobbyist, if you intend to use Twitter to market yourself or your products, you must be a source of original content. Rather than obsessing over your number of followers or seeking to follow all the purported experts and pour over their posts, seek to generate quality, original content. With few exceptions, most of us are in the business of selling some sort of knowledge, whether it is a nuanced technical exposition or the emotive response you'll feel as you rev the engine of a new sports car, and those who succeed in knowledge-based marketing are those who generate compelling content, not those who mindlessly parrot the thoughts of others.

Like any marketing campaign, approach social media with a defined plan. Like many, I use Facebook to keep track of old friends but also to interact with clients and potential clients and paint a slightly more "human" picture of what is generally assumed to be a pretty dry and robotic lump of humanity: the management consultant. I work carefully to avoid less savory pictures or references or expose highly personal details, but I do try to convey a sense that I am a relatively normal and fun-loving person, under the presumption that you are more likely to hire someone you like and can relate to. I have yet to have someone throw a seven-figure contract my way merely for my artful use of Facebook, but it's one more low-cost, low-effort tool in my marketing arsenal.

Get good advice

When the Web was new, every charlatan who could spell "HTML" suddenly became a "consultant" and charged outrageous fees for lackluster or outright damaging advice. We're now in a similar situation, where one can hang out a virtual shingle on Twitter or Facebook, and overnight they're a social media maven. Even fairly rational people in internal positions may be choking on the social media Koolaid, bubbling in their exuberance for fear of appearing outside the loop but all the while advocating foolhardy and time-consuming experiments with the medium.

Approach any advisor with a healthy dose of skepticism, especially if they're unable to tie the purported wonders of social media to concrete results for your particular business, in a manner that is understandable and rational. Trust your gut, and if a proposed effort likely would not work in a more traditional medium, the "magic" of social media is unlikely to save it.

Track your efforts and have an exit strategy

Embarking on a social media campaign is time consuming and, thus, expensive. While hitting the "tweet" button has virtually no cost, a social media campaign must be planned, nurtured, tracked, and managed with the vigilance of any other campaign. Since this is often an intimate look at your brand, letting the summer intern run amuck posting on behalf of your organization is probably not the best strategy. Rarely will social media result directly in sales, and simple "brand building" is a poor excuse for an involved effort. Use social media to gather new prospects that you can track through the sales pipeline, and if the time and money required to maintain the campaign do not generate results, abandon the campaign.

Your company probably will not fold, and the Earth is unlikely to quake should you close your corporate or personal Facebook account if the effort does not pay off. If you discover trolling the social channels is taking more effort than it's worth, by all means, stop and focus those energies elsewhere. Don't maintain a poorly executed social media presence simply because the "experts" say you must.

While social media is certainly effective when used correctly, it is simply one more arrow in your quiver of marketing arrows. Those who follow the above advice and avoid seeing social media as a "magic bullet" will likely meet with the small, incremental success that the medium generally engenders. Those who expect miracles will likely end up shuttering their accounts with lighter wallets and increased frustration.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

15 comments
mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

It is the apex of self-involved, ego massage, stupidity that has been invented so far.

Wild Card
Wild Card

Imagine a job where one cleans up and organizes Social sites. PR if you will. They go in and make sure people are using these sites to the fullest and help set up alias sites for the CEO that just has to put the pictures up of his "vacation" with the secretary. Of course this service will be expensive, but it's not for the rank and file. This will be for the elite of society. Those with more money than they know what to do with. Those with an image to protect. Those that will pay, and pay dearly to keep secrets tucked neatly away. Muwahahaha.

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

We've only just begun with social media and networks. Remember Lycos, Webcrawler, AltaVista and other search sites before Google's market triumph through simplicity in an end user interface? There is a lot yet to go with social media, networks and content before we get to even just a stable, much less mature, working human interactive social environment in the virtual world. Socializing and networking is an intense personal thing in "reality". It therefore will be the same in "virtuality". Just like a bad printer who screws up your business cards, bad software in social media sites magnifies the price one pays for poor software quality in hacks, etc. The pain will now be personal in nature, which is the worse kind. The software industry has never taken quality seriously, but social media may in fact, finally force a change in priorities when it comes to software, testing and operational quality in market offerings. One good sign of the immaturity of social media has been aptly pointed out in some excellent posts about the personal time considered by some as wasted in social media postings, etc. Some prescient posters are already asking the right questions and analyzing the results for this phenomenon called social media in terms of a return on their precious time investment. What is the ROI for social media? How do you measure it? No one knows yet even how to measure it, much less figure out an investment strategy. Even in the real personal networking world, there is significant variance between individuals as to the value of networking and socializing. Remember the saying "It's not what you know but who you know that's important."? I believe that the topic of social media ROI will boil down to individual tastes and personality, which could also be different for an individual between the real and the virtual worlds. The ROI and balance between "reality" and "virtuality" may also vary during an individual's lifetime and life objectives, just as one excellent and revealing post pointed already out that LinkedIn has more value than Facebook for the poster. There may even be a market for lifestyle interest transitions between stages in your personal social media revolution. Social lifestyle stage migration products anyone? Our youth and those who don't treasure their privacy have already jumped head first into some "more risque" websites of networking (of course that's just my opinion). These folks remind me of the early experimenters of the social sexual revolution of the 50's and the 60's. They are already creating a digital evolutionary fingerprint of their lives and exposing the fundamental building blocks of their personalities. This may turn out to be a mistake in the future for some, or it could become an opportunity. Only time will tell. Oh, and don't forget that Tech Republic is in its own way a social media community, albeit very specialized and "exclusive". It may be that this is a specialized tech community, but it is definitely a social media nevertheless. For those who call others names and insult in this social media you're not doing anything different than playing out your life in Flikr, FaceBook, LinkedIn or MySpace!

Shadetree Engineer
Shadetree Engineer

I am beginning to foresee a higher level of identity theft. If what we are, and what we do is digitized - if who we are becomes a digital footprint, then that footprint needs to be managed with the same kind of caution as the contents of our wallets.

mydfp
mydfp

Digital footprints are not your passport, bank account or identity. It is not your home address or your phone number Digital footprints are the active and passive content you leave in the web. Active from you and your friends - blogs, twits, photo etc and passive is geo-tags and other automatic data you don't enter. Yes, Digital footprint needs management and has value and is the next battle ground of the web as everyone wants to own your digital data. have a look at a free on line book http://www.mydigitalfootprint.com

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

On Saturday, I got a letter from one of the three major US credit companies. The text of the letter stated that there had been a "change" introduced on my credit record (which is frozen, BTW and I recommend that for everyone) that was either a change in my home address, my U.S. social security number or my name. The letter would not identify the actual piece of data in question. On Monday (2 days ago) I got to the bottom of the alleged discrepancy. It was a misspelling of my French last name. The source? My LinkedIn profile. I had done that intentionally, which is relatively easy with my surname, which is not computer friendly. Although I am not an expert in UK privacy laws, I believe that in the UK because of the original UK Data Protection Act and its EU companion act you may be more protected there than here in the US. Here and in other parts of the world, your credit, your employment and your passport are already merged together with all sorts of autonomously generated derivative analytic social information and original sensor data to make your composite digital footprint or fingerprint. Even the US military are using Facebook in recruiting decisions. Employers in the US use Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and credit data to create a mosaic for employment decisions. They are also working merging on publicly available medical information into the mix, so people that blog or place in Facebook or Flickr a picture with medical related information might feel the effects of assumed medical derived information in their digital footprint analytics. One example is Facebook and LinkedIn, where searches of recent facial digital photographs that suddenly show you as bald (especially women) without an attached social statement (I've decided to cut my hair) will trigger the probability of chemotherapy and all the issues associated with that. They've done that already with tattoos and pictures of captions like "here am I with so and so, coming out of the hospital"....

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

I totally agree with you. Every technological advance in history has been fraught with danger which eventually comes out and must be handled. There will have to be new rules on the ethical and legal usage and verification of social content. Banks and other firms are now using social content to help influence major financial decisions about you such as issuance of credit and employment acceptance. Pretty soon I expect that admittance to certain organizations, restaurants, clubs and even retail establishments may be subject to a "social footprint" search and analysis. Social media and content participation discrimination may become even more prevalent than racial discrimination! As to the subject of identity theft, your identity IMHO is essentially just a snapshot of certain key elements of your life for specific identification purposes, mostly financial in nature. I see something worse, call it a "lifestyle theft" where your good name hijacked for use by someone else and maybe your social postings are altered to change others perceptions of what you stand for. Case in point? The hijacking of passports in the Du Bai murders. The individuals who used the "hijacked" passports were questioned by authorities and they had detailed knowledge of the forged passport identities, including some of their social content. IBM and other traditionally heavy handed employers recently asked all their employees to "volunteer" their DNA for a major genome research project. What was noticeably absent was a guarantee that the donated genome data would be anonymous and secure from prying eyes. Employees got a thanks from the firm for their volunteering and some cute historical data as to where they may be from, but in exchange now somebody has their DNA which can be used for health, employment and who knows what other types of discrimination.

a.atuma
a.atuma

Social Media, Yes good avenue to market products, sell yourself but I think the security rating of information released should be properly assessed.

Kris.J
Kris.J

"Facebook is yet another free online disservice that positions itself between people and cheapens you." Shut your facebook.

Shadetree Engineer
Shadetree Engineer

I am on the facebook, because my family spends time there. But I keep getting this feeling like I just walked into a strangers fishing net. I see the strings pulling to the surface, but my family keeps talking away not noticing the walls creeping closer....

mikifinaz1
mikifinaz1

All those people who have done or said something stupid (and believe me that is most of us) will rue the day that they put it on their tweets or myspace page to be thrown in their face during job interviews and other critical times of their lives.

dogknees
dogknees

About time people were made to face up to their short-comings. Tiger Woods anyone? None of us are perfect and to pretend we are is just dishonest.

LostValley
LostValley

I surely hope not. I'd rather go with "Kodachrome."

ccrawford
ccrawford

You nibbled around this point, but I see most social media as a huge time and energy drain that distracts attention from more effective marketing and sales efforts. I choose my media wisely (LinkedIn, not Facebook) and take a deep breath before devoting a lot of time and effort to its maintenance.