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Summary:

Don’t trust anyone who says they’ll reveal the “secrets of social media.” There are no secrets of social media. As someone who has seen the bubble of the early web and new media business burst, I’m feeling a sense of deja vu.

hypecycle.001

Don’t trust anyone who says they’ll reveal the “secrets of social media.” There are no secrets of social media. As someone who’s seen the bubble of the early web and new media business burst, I’m feeling a sense of deja vu.

There are people who make a good living off hype and the naivete of others. They see a short window of time when people are still in learning mode or “behind the curve,” and they swoop in with shiny promises bathed in snake oil, take as much money as they can get, then run.

The rest of us are left here in their greedy and destructive wake to pick up the pieces and, worse, to deal with the disillusionment of people who’ve been burned by a con artist claiming to know the “secrets” of social media that will make everyone rich.

We’ve been here before. Some new technological developments (the web, for instance) have had a major impact on how we communicated and did business. Unfortunately, everyone treated these technical advances as the silver bullet, the cure-all magic potion, the most important thing we must all now embrace lest we get left behind and suffer in a life of failure.

The 5 C’s of the Web and Social Media

In 1995, I began teaching workshops about the Internet to businesspeople and spoke of the “5 C’s of the Web”:

  1. Communications. The Internet and the Web were technologies that were transforming the way we communicated.
  2. Connection. Being online connected us to people and to information more quickly and easily than ever before.
  3. Community. The Internet and Web was bringing together like-minded people for mutual support and friendship.
  4. Convenience. Using the Internet could close distances, reduce time, and help us do things more efficiently and effectively.
  5. Creativity. The Web was helping to “level the playing field,” putting tools of creation in the hands of the individual.

Today, with the advent of social media — a vast and growing set of tools with greater interactive (“social”) functionality — we still have the same 5 C’s:

  1. Communications: Check. Although now we’re calling this “Conversations.”
  2. Connection: Check. Our connections to people are augmented through social networking functions. Our connections to information are augmented through feeds and sharing functions. We’re so connected now, our minds are boggled.
  3. Community: Check. Social networking functions enhance the ways we can start and grow communities.
  4. Convenience: Check. Never before have we had so much information and so many tools at our fingertips.
  5. Creativity: Check. From the ease of setting up a blog to building a presence on a social network, anyone with access to the Internet and a computer can create and publish virtually anything online.

Let me put a few things into perspective for you (and I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on these points):

  • Social media won’t save the world. The social web — along with increased access to broadband and wireless/mobile networks — is bringing more people together. But the tools that make up “social media” are not world-savers. People can save the world; social media tools can help people to make positive change.
  • Social media won’t save the economy. Just as the Web and new media companies got investors excited and Wall Street aflutter, so does anything new and promising. Investors, like entrepreneurs, take risks and that is a good thing. LinkedIn going public isn’t going to change our society or our economy. It will make a few people rich on paper and may start a VC frenzy for a while, then everything will shake out.
  • Social media won’t save your life. Now I can point to many examples of people who will say the Internet saved their life or Twitter saved their life. But the truth is that other people saved their lives and all the Internet — or Twitter, or Facebook, or the blogosphere – did was make it easier to reach out and to be reached.

The social web is made up of people connecting with one another or to information that is important to them. We don’t all need social networks and blogs and Twitter to succeed at anything.

We can augment our efforts with social media tools and tactics, but if our intentions are bad, greedy, evil and destructive, we will continue to hurt others and ourselves despite the promise of new technologies. As long as we continue to buy into the hype of new technologies and look to communications tools and platforms to save us, we’re doomed. We need to conduct business well, provide quality products or services, care about our customers and give back to our communities.

How are you combating the social media hype?

image by stock xchng user prole

diagram by Aliza Sherman

  1. Aliza, great article!!! It’s so good to see some reality on social media!

    Another thing people don’t think about with social media is the face that they may just alienate or piss off their customer by “invading” their personal social space with annoying ads. I think people will finally realize this & the hype will die down.

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    1. Consumers are getting savvier, and I think marketers have a challenge keeping up because they are often so entrenched in old ways of doing things. I totally agree, JJ, that social media can be more invasive – like email marketing – than less invasive – like putting up a website – and that can be a real annoyance.

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  2. A couple of thoughts, since you asked. I am surprised at the number of BS artists who have blogs in the top 150 among the AdAge Power Blog list.

    Also – people need to remember that social media is most importantly a MEDIUM. Sure, it does characterize your brand as a bit hip to be there. But the kinds of creative strategies are essentially the same as TV or print: branding, positioning and direct response.

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    1. Social media is not a medium, it’s a media otherwise it would be called social medium. TV, Radio and Print are mediums for the same reason that the internet is a medium – the commonality is that media can be created and transmitted across physical platforms. Social media is just that – a media that is social which is transmitted across the internet – which is the real medium that you are likely referring to.

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  3. I think the main point you’re making here is that if companies keep thinking social media is the solution to all their problems, they’re going to fail (which I definitely agree with). It’s just another way of connecting w/ current and potential customers that happens to be quite different from any other form.

    But I don’t think companies are necessarily looking at social media marketing as the solution to all their problems (maybe small businesses are & some can be rightly so – although, most not rightly so). I think companies, especially large ones, are looking at social media as a complement to their current marketing/customer service programs. Many are even afraid to get involved right away for many reasons, including legal issues & lack of knowledge.

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    1. I agree with you, Cassie, that most companies aren’t looking for social media to solve all their problems, but I do think those same companies are wondering what social media marketing can actually do.

      I’m concerned more about the opportunists who are preying on those who are less informed and creating ill will or even fear where there shouldn’t be.

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  4. As the “Adcontrarian,” Bob Hoffman says, and has said for a long time, “There is no bigger sucker than a marketer convinced he’s missing the latest trend.”

    And as I say, any time you have a concept which nobody can define simply, but about which everyone is an “expert,” you have snake oil.

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    1. Tim, good point!

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  5. The challenge is in fitting new technologies in.
    1. Try to integrate it with current tools. They will be synergetic to each other when used properly.
    2. Don’t wait. Social media have taken some of the control out of the hands of the marketing manager. Even when you decide to hold off for a while, your customers are already using their newly discovered strength. They could harm you before you know it. At least start monitoring the conversations.
    3. Social media are just that, media. But because of the different character it will have a strong impact on how marketers have to work. Up to a point they will have to let go. But that can only work if as a company you are sincere and honest. Fooling customers has come to an end for most companies.

    Overhyped technologies unfortunately sometimes get a bad name. Like CRM did. Sad but true. Of course the basic value is still there. So let us not overhype social media.

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  6. You make strong and valid points in this article Aliza and I like your reminder of the 5 C’s (then and now). To your point about the many “snake oil salesmen” selling the secrets of social media to the unsuspecting, I would counter that there are many people working with organizations to help them understand how to use the different tools in social media. Not as silver bullets but as useful tools that help solve business objectives.

    One way to counter the number of “snake oil salesmen” selling false promises is to share information about, and refer, the people whose work in social media is strong and ethical. Another way is to continue to remind readers of what to look for when searching for assistance in integrating social media tools into an organization’s business processes.

    I enjoy your your posts and articles and share them with my networks regularly.

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  7. Aliza,
    Wow. We’re totally on the same wavelength. Below is a post from our blog about the hype cycle entitled “Brace Yourself for the Backlash Against Social Media Marketing.”

    http://www.greatjakes.com/blog/brace-yourself-for-the-backlash-against-social-media-marketing

    If you have a chance, take a look at some of the comments. It seems that we’re not the only ones that are frustrated by the “silver-bullet” snake-oil salesmen.

    Thanks for your great post.

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    1. Definitely on the same wavelength! I hadn’t seen that chart – but my first thought is “if it is a hype cycle, why isn’t it round?” hahaha

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  8. Spot on… social media can’t solve all our ills. It has places where it is useful/valuable and places where it isn’t. In many cases, our fascination with “shiny new toys” is like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

    Here’s a sneak peak of an article on how social media _can_ help customer service: http://bit.ly/bQmXfD

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  9. I support the realities as described in this article. Yes, there are advantages and profits to be made through the utilization of social media. Is it the end game, does it replace conventional customer prospecting and service? The answer is no.

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  10. I think we have to think about BOTH sides of the hype equation – not just the advocates, but the detractors as well. Part 7a of the Social Media Primer I’m developing through the Social Media in Organizations (SMinOrgs) S.M.A.R.T. Blog is entitled “It’s a Brave New World…Even if You Want the Old One Back,” and the first section is entitled, “Social Media is neither ‘the Cure for All that Ails Us’ nor ‘the End of Civilization as We Know It.'” The battle we have to fight isn’t really about the inherent value of social media, but about the tendency toward irrationality, whether that be irrational exuberance or irrational fear. To the extent we can put social media in its proper perspective and have logical, fact-based discussions, we will all be better served. A girl can dream…

    Courtney Hunt
    Founder, SMinOrgs Community

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