by Jonathan Trenn
This is a post I could probably update every three months.
I just was part of a conversation over at Mac Collier’s blog, The Viral Garden. It’s one of the top social media blogs, and deservedly so, as Mac is one of the top strategists in this burgeoning field.
He asks us Is Social Media Overrated? A simple sounding question with several legitimate but complicated answers. He then uses the term “overrated/overhyped”, treating them as if they’re the same thing. I see those terms differently so I guess I’ll now step up to the plate and take a swing at these questions.
To me, social media is quite overhyped while, at the same time, very much underrated.
Social media is in its nascent stages with methodologies and strategies still being conceived. We’re don’t seem to know what it is exactly. We’re battling on ideas who will be in control. While we’re doing that some wonder aloud if social media jobs will be even around. Others say no, they won’t.
The reality is that social media is an immature, yet growing field staffed by evangelists who recognize it’s potential, but, at times fail to see it’s shortcomings.
Too many of us use extreme terms such as “Engage or Die”. Marketing managers hear that and roll their eyes. The fill-in-the-blank or die phrase is overly used and over kill. Many companies have yet to engage and will continue to resist that concept – at least to the level we demand. And, yes, some of them will do just fine.
Social media is overhyped because we’ll often view and describe disparate members of a company’s customer base as being “communities” when they are too dispersed and too disjointed from one another to have a connection…at least at this point in the game. A lot of marketing managers have to deal with a cultural lack of brand loyalty…a lack of loyalty that kicks in before communities can begin. Then is becomes a “what came first – the chicken or the egg” question. Creating a community-like atmosphere could increase brand loyalty, but a vertical often has little brand loyalty to begin with.
We’ve also have to get the definitions of words down. I’ve seen the word community used for anything from the millions of people who visit YouTube to the potential members of a customer base to an actual current customer base itself. We’re all using key terms differently, often thinking that we’re saying the same thing. That’s not only a sign that the industry is not yet mature, it’s also a sign that it’s not well coordinated.
We’ll mistake a growing ability for customers to affect company reputation via online networking as proof that now the customer is in control of the brand. We then find in most cases, frustratingly, that’s not yet true. We can still get ignored. Or screwed. Consider Joseph Jaffe. One of social media’s true visionaries. Delta Airlines, instead of flying him to Brazil, gave him an involuntary tour of various airports in the New York City metropolitan area, along with a keener understanding of the NYC taxi system. They misled (lied?) to him about seating availability and quality…and despite his vocal online protests, they still haven’t made amends. When I told a Delta employee of Joseph’s experiences, the employee replied “Well, we’re the second largest airline in the country…” as if size matters.
We’ll forget that 97% of people out there don’t know what lifestreaming is, don’t have a Twitter account, aren’t reading a bunch of blogs, or have the time to be engaged with by a slew of companies.
We’ll use the same examples over and over (Dell) without looking, or finding, new ones. There doesn’t seem to be many at this point. But they’re out there. Maybe it’s because we’re looking for groundbreaking case studies from huge companies.
Part of the problem is that so often those that are implementing social media campaigns aren’t social media strategists and, thus, don’t have the social media mindset. They’re traditional ad types. That’s why Forrester found that 15 out of 16 social networking attempts they examined didn’t make the grade.
So there hasn’t been a series of high profile cases in which there’s been significant success stories of social media campaigns that were actually run as social media campaigns. I’m sure they exist, but they don’t get that much attention. (Note: I’m reaching out to two or three communities to interview them about their strategies and successes.)
Gavin Heaton, in commenting on Mac’s post said:
“I think one of the biggest challenges is that most social media efforts are performed in isolation — that they are not seen as part of an overarching business strategy. Instead they are hived off from the rest of the business and measured according to “traditional” metrics of reach, awareness etc.”
So true. Give us a seat at the damn table.
Things ARE changing. We now are hearing about companies launching social media divisions from within. Mac mentioned Scott Monty getting hired by Ford. That’s great news for Scott…but that’s not what will be the real big news. What will be the big news (and I believe this will happen) is that they’ll give Scott the freedom and authority to do what he believes he needs to do. Then people like Scott will turn hype into reality.