Monday, November 15, 2010

Social Media…with a grain of salt

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again. Take the marketing gurus you hear and see with a grain of salt. If we believed even half of what their predecessors said many years ago then the “dot com” bust would never have happened and we would all have our own personal brands and logos tattooed on our foreheads.

It’s not that they sell snake oil – most of them are well intentioned. No, the problem is that the cutting edge is a difficult place to predict the future from. The bottom line is that they often don’t know what will happen in the future. The other challenge with these gurus is that they often have blinkers on – they see things through a very narrow window. As Jonathan Salem Baskin says in his book Branding only works on cattle, “When you own a hammer all the problem’s look like nails.”

And what’s the latest buzz? Social media, of course. There are thousands of gurus out there right now writing books, offering seminars and making sales call with the words “social media” on their lips. They all want you to invest in Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and more.

Baskin talks about this in his book. He says that when it comes to most social media communities, most aren’t real communities and few have real conversations. There’s a number of reasons for this.

First and foremost is that the entire world isn’t using social media. Yes, many people are, but there are still a very sizable majority who don’t use it at all, or worse, use it sparingly. This is easy to prove. Just ask yourself if you know someone who has a Facebook page but hasn’t checked it in months if not years. Likely, you know plenty.

Second, most social media really doesn’t have much of a purpose, except to the marketing and communications people who control them. They are very often simply posts from the corporate website’s news and events page. In effect, it’s just another web page, just packaged in a different way.

Third, a great deal of the effort that goes into social media from Non-profits and others is not sustainable. You’ve all seen it. Some non-profit puts some time and effort into Facebook or Twitter for a while and then stops because they lack people, resources or time. The story of social media is usually feast or famine.

It’s no wonder then that most non-profit social media is not very effective. The stats on its power are very mixed.

So what should you do? Start by trying to define a social media strategy. Ask what you really want to accomplish. And take a customer-focussed approach. Ask what your supporters and donors want from your social media, not what you want. Then, give it to them.


  1. John, you sound just like the other gurus you berate here...
    Aren't you in the marketing communication consulting business and trying to convince someone to work with you as well?

  2. John- appreciate the post here. You make some good points in that we need to approach with caution, take the time to have a strategy and ask some questions before launching off into the abyss.

    While we can write hundreds of posts about what it is not, we also need to remember what it is: a place with hundreds of millions of active users, who have low barriers of entry to both get involved, donate and share/advocate on your behalf. So while many of us toil away in abscurity, the potential if successful is tremendous!