Saturday, December 4, 2010

Now that the Social Media Hype is Fading - What Comes Next?

I got an email recently from someone I have worked with talking about a new account that they got on Facebook. Every once in awhile I get these and I read them because don't we all want to make new contacts and ultimately get new accounts from the time we spend in these spaces?

The truth is although I'm in all of the major ones, and I've found partners on LinkedIn for projects, I've never gotten real business from social media. I've gotten in hot water over a handful of blog posts which isn't fun. The problem is we want to be provocative to drive traffic to our social media spaces but then when we are someone gets upset. I suppose that would happen face to face as well - although the audience is certainly much smaller.

As a journalist, you have more leeway. You can take an issue and examine it from all different sides - unless you work for Fox News. But as a marketing/PR person truth is it's better to just repeat the pablum that passes for information which most businesses put up.

The whole point of social media though is to start a conversation that others join in. To me that's the benefit more than anything. People are continually trying to come up with questions that will spark responses on Linked In, Facebook, Twitter, etc. But there doesn't seem to any rhyme or reason to what gets people to respond.

Some of the conversations I've seen that have drawn a huge following include -

Why is business writing so bad?
Who still uses PowerPoint and what's the alternative?
What is the best communications book ever?

Here are a few other ways that organizations are using social media right now:

Social media as a billboard ad - Many organizations use social as a one way billboard to push information out into cyberspace. It appears to be a control thing - if you close down your comment sections or police them people have a tendency not to respond. But you can still look at traffic and where it comes from which has some value.

Social media as a network building tool - I go in and out of this one with Linked In being the one I use most often. Every couple of months I start to contact people I've met and ask them to join my collection of business contacts. Does it do much? I don't know - it's better than nothing. For awhile Linked In was a hot bed of activity - now it seems to be lukewarm.

Social media as a way of showing personality - That's what blogging is supposed to be about but it's pretty risky unless you're already well known in a certain field and watch what you say. I prefer Facebook because I have clients and friends on it - my network is closed and I can say and do more of what I really want too. I wish my Facebook page could be more open - but sometimes we have conversations that shouldn't be open to the world. And that's better I think.

Social media as a way of establishing and maintaining your niche - This is a Twitter issue mostly. I work with a lot of different clients on different projects. While we focus on science and health there are so many other things I find interesting and want to share and do on Twitter. But my messaging is all over the place. Besides Twitter has become total blather although I do try to tweet a few times a week. But who has time to read all of that stuff?

Social media to push a political agenda - People may not agree with me but I think that social has created a new venue for what Hillary Clinton once called a "right wing conspiracy." In health care particularly, any time someone comments on reform there are dozens of responses by people who blame the president and the Democrats for taking away their right to choose. The messaging is just too consistent and I do believe on many of these issues there is an army of people who are paid to respond to hot button issues. Kind of like the tea partiers misspellings and all.

Social media as a way of starting a dialogue - The most innovative spaces - take a look at ScientificBlogging which is a very good example of how to do it right - offer an open forum to everyone and get conversations going. I do blog on this site when I have time and I find people read what's written and do comment frequently. The site is far more provocative than most and is kind of like a think tank for scientists.

So where is this post heading? People are still preaching the importance of social media particularly to non-profits and associations who want to keep members engaged. Corporations seem to use social as another distribution system for the stuff they put out anyway. Lawyers and management consultants can't really be convinced to go on these spaces because they're so public - same with therapists. Probably better they remain discreet.

Independents - I think we're still figuring it out. If anyone has something to add please do.

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