The Internet has been ablaze the last few months about social media and business. Everyone is trying to figure out the value of the different sites – from the “oldies” like Facebook and LinkedIn to newbies like Twitter, Seesmic, Plurk, Brightkite, etc. The value of such communities is especially abuzz in the realms of marketing and communications. People are catching on that marketing and PR are now – more than ever – about building relationships (as opposed to spinning news). PR executives who are not engaging with constituents – media, customers, partners, colleagues, competitors – in these new communities are missing a huge competitive advantage and opportunity. But who are the right constituents?
Just like anything – it’s how you yield the sword, not the sword itself, in my humble opinion. While building a fan base, securing thousands of followers or becoming a “top friend” can be fun, when it comes to business, how do these numbers translate? Where does the value lie? Does having thousands of Twitter followers suddenly make you a “social media expert?”
The ability to use – or experience with – communities like Facebook and Twitter do not make anyone a communications expert. Sheer follower numbers do not necessarily mean value – at least not to everyone. I may have 1000+ followers but that doesn’t mean anything to my clients unless I’m gleaming value specific to their goals. And even if one of their goals is to increase their user base, not all – or even the majority – of those followers are going to be appropriate users for my client’s products.
What if the content I’m sharing on these communities is irrelevant or my approach is more personal than professional? For example, some Twitter users don’t actually converse – they just spew updates about their day. That doesn’t actually build relationships. Some don’t recognize Twitter as a business opportunity but just have fun with their followers. (The smart ones do both – personal and professional communications – for reasons discussed in previous posts). Others build corporate entities only to “spam” followers and quickly lose them. So, while having a great following on these communities is important, so is understanding how to participate appropriately and glean the right value from them – and how to combine that with other communications strategies.
A lot of folks in the industry are also abuzz about “social media experts.” We’ve had plenty of six figure-seeking applicants tell us they know everything there is to know about social media. Personally, I think there are very few who can truly call themselves experts in this arena – yet – and I’m not impressed when an applicant just runs down a list of “Twitterati” that they have on their follower list or “web celeb” Facebook friends list.
Don’t spew names. Give me an example of how these relationships have helped add business value to your organization or your client’s business. How did your relationships increase a company’s users? What strategy did you have in place for using social media to build a brand and what metrics have you used to measure that brand awareness? Just using social media does not mean you know how to tie it to the bigger picture. I find this to especially be true with the younger generation of workers. Yes, they know how to use social media and are fully immersed in it. But do they understand business strategy, marketing goals and how to leverage these communities for such? Some do, but the majority may not yet understand the intricacies of business relationships and communication.
When thinking about new media and marketing, don’t get too starry eyed just because social media is a hot topic right now. Just as anyone can put a press release across the wire, anyone can build a massive following in these communities. But if the tools aren’t used properly – and combined with other elements of the business to execute a larger strategy – they become useless from a business perspective. Sometimes they can even become harmful.
What do you think? Have you found value in hiring a social media expert? How do you define “expert?”