Yes, I said it. What no one else would. Social media is dead. If you’re just getting into it now, I’m sorry to ruin the fun. It’s for your own good though. You’re late to the party. There is no wave to catch. That thing you’re only now trying to surf isn’t even a ripple, it’s foam on the shore! Stop paddling, you’re going to scrape the skin off your arms.
“How can this be?” you might be wondering. It was just a few years ago that there were entire social media conferences, workshops (given too by yours truly), and a superabundance of “experts.” Boy, were there a lot of those. Still, when I did give social media trainings, I always warned people — yes, even folks who paid to see me! — not to put faith in social media experts. Was I being ironic? Shooting myself in the foot? Practicing bad PR? Not in the least. I was being dead honest, looking out for the best interest of the people who trusted me to advise them, what you’d hope most professionals would do.
Instead, that period of time saw a dramatic rise in overnight-success sellers. And suckers. When something trends particularly high, snakeoil salesmen appear in droves. Oh, the shade of it all! How many cold-calls and -emails did you get, each talking a good game laden with all the then-current buzzwords? Services offering SEO, blogging, and social media management? Hit the bricks!
People were falling for it too. Not just your ordinary schmucks either. Executive Directors and business owners. Anyone afraid to be left behind. Anyone seeking the magic cure for more. More anything. More fans, more views, more likes, more traffic, more buyers, more revenue – all of it in an instant. Growth at any cost, even if the science wasn’t sensible.
In my logic, the field of social media was wholly too new for anyone to seriously refer to themselves as an expert. No diss but you would’ve been a real phony if you did. How could anyone be an expert when the dust hadn’t yet settled? The methods were yet tested, the outcomes yet repeatable. As a company, did you pour resources into some young hot shot with no hard skills and no proven record? A kid you essentially paid to gallivant on the Internet? Some spring chicken that was also duped, unfortunately, into thinking they could make an actual career out of tweeting? (Tweeting???) Don’t be embarrassed, you weren’t alone.
So, what is the real deal? Where did it, or we, go wrong? What is the use of social media, if anything at all? While Web 2.0 continues to develop, we are some years beyond that initial blitz of hype and are now able to see some rules of play emerge. And here they are.
Yes, the recent evolution of the Internet has permanently altered how people communicate and share information across the globe. It’s important to pay attention to, just not in the way we may have been led to believe, with all the concern on whatever dot com was in vogue. Investing in particular sites themselves is a poorly charted course if there ever was one. First, Friendster. Then, Myspace. After, Facebook. Followed by Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, and now, Vine. And there’s no telling what or how many will be next. Any signs of slowing? Nope. None. If sites are your focus, you’ll be forever chasing after vagaries, and worse, always a few steps behind. Which in hindsight, now makes all those “How To Facebook” workshops that “experts” were giving, especially silly.
People ask all the time, “Do I have to be on Facebook, on Twitter, etc.?” The answer a few years ago, “Yes, of course! You may as well not exist if you aren’t.” But that would have been informed, as I mentioned at the start of this post, by all the hullabaloo. Today, I can say with the utmost confidence and would even be willing to put a wager on it that you do not — repeat do not — have to have social media presence in order to: have an audience, generate revenue, and consequently, be in and stay in business. I have seen PLENTY of evidence. On the flipside, I know people who have fantastic Internet presence — they’re virtually everywhere! — but only exactly that, virtually; i.e. no real world clout. Popular but not powerful. Chatter with no substance. And most awfully, they are inundated with social media account management rather than lasering in on legitimate game-changers: product/service development, client relations, and sales. When it comes to making things happen, social media is no replacement for the original school: A navigable and up-to-date website, a content-rich email list, and probably above all, the personalized phone call.
Despite social media’s early promises, there is no fast-track to audience-building. In other words, to earning trust and getting buy-in, either figuratively or literally. I can’t tell you how many times I have received urgent last-minute requests for a social media plan with mere weeks till some event launch. Everyone drank the juice, leaving me with the job of party pooper when I’d have to tell them, “Yeah, um, this isn’t like a chemistry test that you can just cram for.” Asking the public to attend a function, make a donation, or buy a ticket is akin to making a withdrawal from your bank. Easy to do when you’ve been making deposits regularly (that is, investing in the relationship). Impossible to do if you haven’t, no matter how much presence you think you have.
So, what in the world do we do with social media? My recommendation: Recognize it for what it is, a tool to add to your marketing kit (however, a more pretty than primary instrument). And what is marketing but an expression of your company’s outreach? As such, social media’s most powerful application to date is in the arena of good ol’ fashioned customer service/relations. I think this concept is best reflected in the words of Trish Santini which rang:
“None of the new stuff has replaced the old stuff. You have to do all of it.”
Meaning: keep in touch, talk, listen, record feedback, address concerns, offer gifts, tell stories, remember supporters, make acknowledgements, give thanks. You know… show that you care. This is why I feel strongly that you cannot reasonably outsource your social media to a third party any more than you can hire someone to tell your wife and family that you love them. How on earth is someone — a stranger — who doesn’t know your work intimately going to accurately represent you to your fans? Absurd! Maybe even unethical.
These days, the marketing strategy that I am hired to deliver is almost entirely focused on these values and related actions. I’m really a kind of relationship coach when you think about it. Not in romance, of course, but in meaningful patron engagement. I believe this new sense of connectedness and heightened ability to communicate that technology has afforded us, means we must compete against noise not with more noise, not with more technology, but with empathy. Anyone who fears (and rightfully so) getting left behind in the new era, take heed.
Social media campaigns that don’t emphasize superb customer service and relationship building will be doomed to failure. Or worse, mediocrity. If you want to stand out in a crowd, get down to basics. Genuine human connection, courtesy and respect. Not coincidentally, this principle of service and thoughtfulness creates long-term audience loyalty and priceless word-of-mouth referrals (ahem, the first kind of “viral” marketing). Best of all, it requires zero updates! Even if the apps through which you transmit your messages, do.
And for a kick, check out this related comedy sketch.
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