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August 25, 2010

The Danger of Dismissing Social Media’s Value

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I know I’m preaching to the choir, but there is business value in social media marketing.

How’s that for a news flash, guys?

Not like I’ve never said it before. So why again now? Well, the idea that social is a waste of time caused quite a stir on Hacker News today as Spencer Fry’s Down With Social made its way to the top. Fry makes a strong argument, however, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Why Fry thinks social media has no business value:

  • Skills needed for community managers are present throughout the organization. Devoting a full-time person to the job is a waste of resources.
  • Social media is not a fit for every business. Some sites are better served without social features.
  • Social media marketing can’t be measured effectively. Spending without knowing the return on investment is throwing money away.

So here’s where I beg to differ.

In Business, Like Life, It Pays To Be Social

get feedback use feedback

Long before the Internet, it was common knowledge that businesses that gave good customer service and responded to their particular audience’s needs would find the most success. Businesses did this by getting to know their customers, from mom-and-pops that would greet visitors by name to big brands doing market research. Being social (don’t think social media here, I’m talking about just plain “social”) is about getting to know people. So businesses that are social will learn about their customers, get product feedback and recommendations, and build long-term relationships.

Being Social Is About Listening and Iterating

First of all, I think that Fry has forgotten that blogging is part of social media. People don’t blog just to hear themselves talk. They blog to share ideas with others and to listen to others share ideas with them. Other than Steve Jobs’ insistence that he doesn’t have to listen to users, all the stories I hear about product development demonstrate benefit in testing with users and soliciting feedback. Social media, including blogging, is an open communication stream that flows both ways. And if not publishing one’s own blog, it’s a mistake to forget about the social content generated by others. Last time I went on a “don’t overlook social” tirade, I included a video of statistics that illustrate the power of social. Here’s one of the standout stats: 34% of bloggers post opinions about products and brands, and 25% of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are user-generated content.

Social May Not Be Measurable YET, but Measurable Does Not Equal Valuable

I wonder if Fry would take to task PR departments for a lack of measurability. Before the Web, getting press in traditional media was considered a good thing, so much so that any press was good press. But could the PR department easily quantify its contributions? Today, 56% of journos and editors say they use social media resources when reporting stories. Also, analytics technology is still evolving. It wasn’t always the case that phone calls generated from PPC ads could be tracked, but that didn’t mean there was no ROI on the ad. It may not be tomorrow, but social media will be more trackable in the future. In the meantime, businesses would do well to recognize social media’s role in the conversion funnel. For instance, a blog post can generate value for SEO via relevant content and links, and it can create reputation value by taking a leadership role and establishing consumer trust. Of course you have to weigh your options to see if social media is a fit for a business, but at every SMM conference session I’ve been to, one of the first things the speaker says is, “Get to know your audience and establish your goals before choosing a tactic.”

So what do you think? Have I been drinking too much social media Kool-Aid or is Fry’s argument officially toast?

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12 responses to “The Danger of Dismissing Social Media’s Value”

  1. Eric Adechi writes:

    Great post! And keep drinking the kool-Aid! I for one, believe that social media marketing campaigns are measurable. The only problem is that we’re attempting to draw up ROI that same way we’ve done using other marketing tools. Case in point: to follow up on your example using business I would argue that devoting time to networking events offline is your I(investment) the return you get from that I may be a job, a business opportunity, a partnership, an idea, regardless you still derive something of value. It is my belief that the value companies get from being social can be identified but it might not be a number. And that’s your R!

  2. Dragan Nikolic writes:

    It`s always a good thing when somebody raises suspicion about something big, as we tend to involve ourselves more and think harder about it. I am relatively new to the topic of social media marketing but I came to conclusion that social media is about exchanging ideas and making yourself better through it. Asigning one person solely for the purpose of SMM is something we can discuss, because there will always be people who are good or intermediate at doing something and (as you said it youself) just because somebody can`t measure the value of social media and his business hasn`t improved doesn`t necessarily mean that SMM is to be blamed.
    really enjoyed your post

  3. Henry Elliss, Tamar writes:

    Fry couldn’t be more wrong if he tried – just because the skills needed are present throughout an organisation, doesn’t mean they will get done. It’s like saying that everyone in the office has the potential to be the cleaner – that may be true, but if you leave it like that it’ll never get done. Don’t even get me started on his stupid measurability argument…

  4. Howard writes:

    Thanks for the article Virginia. For a local business word of mouth is considered to be an important means of getting and keeping customers. Yet I’ve never heard of a reliable method for measuring the results of word of mouth “marketing”. For right now, as you state above,
    “It may not be tomorrow, but social media will be more trackable in the future.” Social media can provide value and it isn’t going away anytime soon. The business that doesn’t find a way to establish a social presence with their customers is simply leaving the door open for their competitors.

  5. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Exactly, Howard! How many businesses before the last decade would have pointed to word of mouth as the primary way they generate new business? And who was “tracking” that?

  6. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Love that analogy, Henry. If an exec says “why pay for the cow if you can get the milk for free?” I’d say, “because it means they’d be milking you.” ;)

  7. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Okay, I’ll give him that much, Dragan. He definitely got us thinking about it. :) Which is really just another point for social, am I right?

  8. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Ahh, of course! A return that isn’t a direct dollar sign gets no credit in the equation? No one ever said investments are only what you can get in your pocket tomorrow. As you said, Eric, that job, partnership or idea can lead to big returns, too.

  9. Dragan Nikolic writes:

    The more I read about this the more this becomes just a funny story – mr.fry`s story. Let`s be honest.. the guy did this because:
    1. he wanted to draw attention (success)
    2. he is pissed about something

    Either way, his social media activity is responsible for us exchanging ideas here and broadening our views..or maybe even something bigger than that. case closed mr.fry :)

  10. Virginia Nussey writes:

    Game. Set. Match!

  11. Warner Carter writes:

    I agree very much with your idea that social media is valuable, yet, at the same time there are enough social media hucksters making it sound like the discovery of fire, that there is some room for a little skepticism.

    The most popular social networks sites mimic and extend BI (before Internet) socializing. Twitter is like a conversation in a big room with many people interrupting, much like offline. Facebook is much like going to the local supermarket and running into neighbors.

    Some people talk about Google adding socialization activity as part of the calculations for ranking, and if true, that is another reason businesses would be foolish to ignore social media.

    No matter what happens, some won’t like it just because it is new and disrupts their “status quo”.

  12. Virginia Nussey writes:

    I actually think skepticism goes too far because it suggests approaching social media with a closed mind. However, a measured evaluation of social media’s advantages and drawbacks for a specific business is necessary for everything in business. And you’re right, not taking every self-proclaimed expert at their word is a good idea, too.



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