the social media effect - part 2: social media's place

May 20, 2009 ·

as i alluded to in part 1, social media is just a new tool at the disposal of marketers. i don't want to belittle the importance though in saying that. social media is a powerful tool that dramatically changes the landscape and interactions amongst people and with brands. not saying anything new, just re-affirming in case you thought i had jumped to the other side.

the main shortcoming of social media right now is that it is a pretty small universe that a brand can speak to. i'll qualify this by saying 'directly.' including social sharing muddies the waters some. although it is one of the cornerstones of social media, and the technology makes this easier than ever, it always existed (the water cooler). to say this is all at the behest of a company is erroneous. it has always wrested with the consumer, regardless of ease and a company's influence.

the masses are social, but social media isn't mass.

the first part of that statement is easy. people have flocked to social media sites and applications in droves, and it's still growing. facebook has 200 million members, myspace isn't that far behind. twitter is approaching 10 million and is on fire. there's no denying it, social media has hit the masses.

it's the second part where the mass equation falters. these are strictly opt-in environments and access to brands is limited by interest. again, not a bad thing, just not a breadth thing. while the platforms are open to the larger ecosystem, any one community is only comprised of brand enthusiasts.

this is demonstrated by the 'Fans' or 'Followers' metric. granted, this is pretty shallow and doesn't show all who happen upon the community, but it is the best way to enumerate who is most deeply engaged with the brand or company. if that's the brand's audience, i wouldn't call that mass. yes, there's still growth to be had of these communities, but how high can they really go? certainly not the totality of your market.

here's a rough diagram of what i mean. the enthusiasts are your audience in the social media world. the casuals come by less frequently and don't do as much. then there's the whole rest of the potential audience that you're not talking to in social media.



if all this holds water, then social media efforts are geared at the brand's community, not a mass approach. you could go so far as to say social media is a CRM tool. of course, they already are your customers because they opted in and have shown passion for the brand. so social media seems more the retention side of things in entering an ongoing dialog with your consumers. that seems fair, no?

now i'm not trying to take anything away from the power of social media here, that's not my intention. i'm just a realist and pragmatist who is looking at the whole picture and seeing where all the pieces fit.

right now, the numbers and opt-in nature of social media tells me the place for it is on the retention side. and i see it staying this way, indefinitely. certainly there are tactics that engage and reach beyond those enthusiasts, but for the most part, the efforts are against the core of existing customers.

it works beautifully to engage a community and strengthen bonds with our consumers. i just don't like putting on it any more than is due. that's how the tools were designed, to enhance an affinity. but to go so far as to say it's the killer app and always be able to do a job it wasn't made for is faulty.

there are purposely some holes here and in part 3, i'll wrap this all up into a cohesive framework directly linking interruptive/disruptive and social media. i'm hoping to show a sustainable situation where they coexist, work together and each has a role in the mix. put each in its place as it were.

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