Monday, October 26, 2009

Social Media Not a Panacea

Some will find this as no surprise: social media is NOT the answer to every challenge in business. However, it is something you need to be aware of and know how to use.

This became especially evident with me tonight when I had dinner with a friend. He, like many others, said he didn't understand the purpose of microblogging in sites like Facebook and Twitter. We both agreed that the idea of writing your status as "going to lunch" or "just got off the phone" and the likes are useless in the world of business. There's no real business value in such postings, though some may argue there is personal historical and social value.

He was especially concerned since a lot of folks in his company, a consumer goods delivery company, was trying to convince him to open their business network to use social media. He asked me where such sites delivered value. I gave him the spiel that all those in social media give: social media sites are at their infancy, but as they mature and begin to integrate their services (this is already taking place), they'll begin to provide minute-by-minute news, specific to each company by that company and all of its followers, critics, amateur and professional writers.

As Ryon Harms wrote recently in Michael Jackson, The Matrix and the Future of Information (The Social Executive Blog), "at any given moment there are thousands of smart conversations on ideas and events that could redefine the future of your ...business...." In other words, social media has begun to act as the new delivery system for critical information as quickly as someone witnesses it and can post it online.

How will all the services work together in the future? Likely we'll begin to see microblogging as a news feed stream that runs across the bottom of your computer screen at work, home, or on your smart phone devices.

Each of those entries will be announcements by companies or people that you're interested in, or search snippets on topics such as your products, company or competitors that you want to track. They'll each provide a link to the fuller story, whether that's a news release on a company site, article by a provider like Wall Street Journal, or a report on what's being said about your products, like 500 people have started threads about how your products have caused them harm or provided them some great benefit.

Therefore, the business value is how quickly you receive information that's vital to your business by people you can trust. This last statement is important, especially the phrase "people you can trust." Whether and how you can trust people online is a topic I'll cover next Monday. I don't believe it's as easy as some make it to be.

Nevertheless, likely you now see the speed of information delivery, as well as the targeted nature of it, is what we, as business people, can take advantage of to deliver better customer service, improve our products or services, and more easily attract customers eager and willing to spend with us. As Seth Godin recently wrote in his blog, "some people are better than others," and those are the people that are your company or product fans. Those are the people you want to attract.

That doesn't mean that this is the only way social media will be used. The ideas are still forming on various streams, blogs, and shared spaces online. However, none of this means that social media will solve all of your problems. You still need to determine whether reading such chatter and conversations online about you or your company is something of value to you. I would argue it is, but how it can be used at your particular company is in question, just as it was for my friend.

In the end, you have to make the decision how to use it, not whether you will. If you have doubts and think social media is a fad, consider that the same was said about instant messaging and email. No doubt, you use at least one of these technologies each day to run your business.

What Do You Think?
I'd love to hear your opinion. Feel free to comment on why social media does or doesn't belong in business.