Studying the impact of innovation on business and society

3 Realities of Social Media

Guest post by Michael Brito. Follow him on Twitter, add him on Facebook or read his blog.

Source: Shutterstock

This post is a reflection of my personal experiences working in the enterprise and does not reflect the point of view of previous or current employer.

Reality #1: Consumers already get it; brands are still trying to figure it out

Consumers use the social web to talk about everything including products. Sometimes they are praiseworthy, sometimes not. There are no strategic meetings or secret gatherings where consumers discuss which products to talk about and when. They just happen, and happen organically. And at times – at the demise of some brands — these conversations can reach the mainstream media as it did with Motrin.

Brands want to be involved. They want to influence and change behavior. Some listen to the above conversations and some don’t. The smart ones not only listen but act on the collective feedback from the community. Unfortunately, some organizations aren’t structured internally to effectively manage social media externally. This makes it extremely difficult for brand marketers to take action. Brands are still learning; and are beginning to change internal processes in order to keep up with external market conditions, in this case the social web. The brands that are proactive like Starbucks and Dell are one step ahead of the brands that take a more reactive approach.

Reality #2: Brands should focus on the people first, tools last

Over the last 6 – 12 months, many brands have created Twitter accounts to engage with their constituency. While this isn’t a bad thing, I believe that brands should be trying to figure out which tool(s) their consumers will be using tomorrow. The reality is that social media tools and technologies change everyday. People change and the way people use these tools change everyday. Not everyone uses Twitter other than early adopters, influencers and celebrity stalkers. Brands today can now bypass influencers and engage directly with consumers, especially if they pay close attention to where they spend their time online.

I wonder how many brands are engaged in conversations in relevant blogs, forums and discussion boards. I believe that the conversations here may be even more valuable than the ones in Twitter, since they are probably closer down the purchase funnel. The Best Buy forums are a great example of where a multitude of conversations are taking place about various products.

Reality #3: There is no such thing as a social media expert quite yet

Yup, I said it and I believe it. First and foremost, social media is about humanity. It gives brands the opportunity to step from behind the corporate shadow and engage in real life dialogue with others. With that said, being an expert in human behavior is not something one can accomplish just from blogging, tweeting or speaking at conferences.

One form of an expert is a sociologist; and they spend many years researching human behavior, creating surveys, acquiring and analyzing data and then using the information to base logical predictions, conclusions and hypothesis. And, they usually have patients too. Not followers or subscribers, but real life patients. A two-minute video on how to increase your twitter followers and use links is probably not a viable comparison to an expert.

Additionally, branding one’s self with social media is much different than helping a brand connect with people online. Every organization has a different culture, business processes, policies & procedures, web infrastructure, perspectives on customers & marketing, human capital, etc. Not to mention that they have different products and services; and let’s not forget that the regulated industries too. Unless you have ever worked behind the firewall of an enterprise, you can only imagine the chaos that can ensue when trying to find the right opportunity to begin using social media and then doing it the right way. It’s a learning process and yes, there are times when you fail. I’ve been there.

A true “expert” in mind is someone who is always learning how consumers behave and interact within the social web; and then figuring out how a brand can leverage that moment in a meaningful way to create a memorable brand experience. And even then, they are still probably not an expert.

If you want to get to know me a little better, you can find me hanging out on Twitter for most of the day or writing in my social media blog.

58 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “3 Realities of Social Media”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I am a social media specialist for a brand and we are moving to the message boards because while Twitter is great and we have a presence there, the real chatter is happening for us on the boards.

  2. Steve says:

    I agree! Especially with your first point.

  3. Cam Gleeson says:

    Great post, in three very good points you really hit the nail on the head with Social Media marketing. Consumers do get it and I think they get it far better than we give them credit for. Marketing departments may be dabbling in social media, but I still think they are doing so only in ways where they think they have some perceived “control”. You are right though marketing departments are reacting to consumer led social media engagement.
    As for experts, I really dont think there are any just yet, yes some are more knowledgeable than others but expert? Not sure if they exist just yet.

  4. I am amazed by the number of brands and organizations whose people don't understand Twitter, etc. If they post at all, they may only tweet about their product (buzz…wrong answer) or they don't follow everyone back (buzz…wrong answer). Many fail to understand the purpose of the RT (to show that you are reading what others are saying – I mean that you are showing that person and everyone else – while forwarding interesting content). And the most important and obvious: following proactively targeted people (especially the influencers themselves) so they will mostly follow back.

    It is because of this incredible inability to grasp social media basics that you get people being able to call themselves relative “experts” – relatively speaking, they *are*.

    Example: There is a funny video out there showing an expert trying to *con* a company into giving him 5000 Euros to set them up on social media. He whispers to himself that he plans to get them a Facebook account and Twitter name, make about 20 posts, follow 2000 people by keyword and then not do anything more after that.

    Well…that is actually worth 5000 Euros to a company that hasn't yet secured its own name on Facebook and Twitter. The cost of removing a squatter would be more than that.

    Until company execs know enough about how to do this themselves so they can consider this kind of stuff as simple as buying copy paper, “experts” will be able to charge top dollar to do it because they, by default, will be worth it.

    I helped two relatively large US corporations (~200 employees) get accounts last winter – for free – and their CEOs know I helped them dodge a bullet.

  5. JasonPeck says:

    Message boards and forums are certainly not dead. Glad to see someone saying something positive about them.

  6. sazbean says:

    Great post. I think I'd add, closely related to Reality #1:
    Reality #4: Consumers don't always know how to connect with Brands even if they wanted to. From a consumer standpoint, sometimes something really great happens and you want to connect with the brand to let them know. When you go to their website, all you get is a contact form. If you do bother to fill it out, you probably get some kind of canned response. Or let's go the other way, and say you're having a problem that you want help with. You're probably also going to have to go through a contact form. That brand may be on various social media, Twitter, Facebook, whatever, but do they make that obvious to their customers? Is social media stuck on the marketing side or is integrated throughout their customer relations? If they do provide customer support via social media, how do consumers find out about it?

  7. Nick Shin says:

    To hear this, “Reality #3: There is no such thing as a social media expert quite yet” from you is so reassuring. Before the 140 LA Twitter Conference, I considered everyone, including you, a person who liked to call themselves an “expert.” However, after listening to you speak at the 140tc, I can honestly say you are one of literally a 1/2 dozen or so whom I can call a social media expert (notice how I took out the quotes :D). Innovative, influential, and a thought leaders are qualities of an expert and you certainly fit the bill for social media. Great job and of course, another thought provoking post.

  8. Couldn't agree more, but I don't think we are at a stage where we have experts yet, as such. We have communicators who have been advising brands for many years on how best they should interact with consumers, but anyone who says they are a 'social media' expert is probably the first person to avoid when trying to find someone who's advice you are looking to take. Indeed, it is often these people who fall into the trap of point two, and focus on the platform used to address, rather than the people they are addressing.

  9. lynnelle says:

    Interesting and good points.

    A slight bone to pick – not directed to you in particular, Michael. Your post is just the straw, I suppose. In a field that changes minute by minute, the 'experts' are those who continue up the learning curve and to evolve – as does the field itself. On the other hand, there ARE leaders in this field of new media – and they are those we follow and look to for guidance. At what point does a thought leader become an 'expert'? I say it's subjective. Saying there are “no experts” is itself a hype – started by …the thought leaders themselves. Those attempting to brand themselves as experts are the ones declaring, “I'm an expert.” Still, the declarations of “I'm NOT an expert…”, bordering on feigned modesty – it's getting tiresome. IMHO

  10. dianesager says:

    Great post. I completely agree wit Reality #3…lol. There are “Expert” jokes at every conference I attend, yet there are also always “Experts” present as well. I would love to hear your thoughts on identifying future trends when planning a social media strategy for brands. Thx!

  11. Britt says:

    You've nailed it. Too many times business owners come to us and tell us that the only reason they're blogging and using twitter and facebook is because they were told to do so. It's not about getting on every single platform online, it's about engaging prospects, learning about them and talking to them. It's really as simple as that. Thanks for the great tips!

  12. CraigElimeliah says:

    Social media strategy is one that has to be led from behind… Brands cannot lead the conversation however as a brand you can help alleviate and address issues or concerns that customers are ranting about or simply acknowledge or maybe even reward the good that is being said. The collective is powerful and if the collective is aware that the brand is aware then the feedback will be both constructive and meaningful as well as valuable. Democratizing marketing is the new model and when the collective sees that their voices are not being heard they will abandon the brand for one that does listen. Listening can come in all forms, providing input, tools, advice, value added information and so on, this will adhere your customers to the brand in a way that will be the most intimate ever. Trying to dominate the conversation will result in a form of not listening, responding in a way where your customers feel heard is the key to social media success.

  13. mediakaleid says:

    It's not everthing about twitter and organizations moving in to social media. I think it is the thing how organizations find a valuable way to combine the different new opportunities which a given through the change of technology and also the change of broadcast habits. There are changes out there every single day and the valuable way is to be transparent every time – although if that means that you be less present on twitter etc. the thing is that most consumers in contrast to organizations, pr people etc. are sometimes the real experts concerning social media.

  14. This is an amazing post, right on, dead on target, and that is why we truly believe that all rules have changed and we are part of the next era where relationships are being transformed on a daily basis at lightening speed. Established companies better be careful or else the disruptive companies will take over. Nice post.

  15. Absolutely brilliant post, every point is extremely valid and I couldn't add anything to it! Great job!

  16. hello everyone. thank you for your positive comments! ; )

  17. lizzymagvire says:

    Excellent. This is just the kind of exceptional service that many of us early believers and customers expected.

  18. justsail says:

    It's great to have the difference in advertising a brand through social media and having a brand connect with people though social media pointed out. Many people believe that social media is a way to reach consumers with their advertisements, but it's more than that. Social media users will quickly begin to disregard anything that that brand puts out once if it's merely ads, ads, ads; there has to be some element of personal connection there between the brand and its consumers.

  19. Beiruta says:

    You are right: there are no social media experts yet, thus, there are no social media “gurus” as well! We are all still learning and developing through usage and trial/error.

    Although some know more than others, the truth remains that we are all still ignorant to the ins and outs of social media in a comprehensive organized manner!

    Great read… Thanks

  20. This represents a first in the mind of corporate America, “people get it, brands don't”—the internet is evolving into a people driven entity, where our behaviors, our interests are driving search and consumerism. It will be interesting to watch the trends this Christmas as reports are being released that consumers will again shop less this holiday season. I predict consumers will look for more online deals than ever before, and social media will be used as a conduit to find the best deals.

  21. seantmcvey says:

    I agree most with the fact that nobody is yet a social media expert. Every company is different, technology is constantly changing, and the adapters will prevail. It appears the conversations online are replacing old school branding and marketing techniques which makes sense. The problem is that social media and online conversations take time to develop and it is difficult to connect these methods to the bottom line. How do I convince old school clients to invest a year or more in social media without concrete results? I have had many discussions on this topic and I am continually experimenting with metrics and analytics. Just curious though, how do you all convince the old school to invest?

  22. Scarlett PencilPoint says:

    Just an FYI, in point number 2, it should read “every day” — two words. “Everyday” written as one word is an adjective, as in “this is my everyday coat, not my dressy coat.” Hope that helps.

  23. I am actually more concerned with 79% SMBs spending less than $5,000 a year in marketing,
    which is probably the one thing typical about these respondents and all SMBs. This indicates they don’t believe in spending on marketing or marketing is worth the money.

  24. Bullaman says:

    Organisations have a long way to go to even remotely understanding social media…even those actively engaged in online marketing activties. And with this lack of understanding, anyone presenting themselves as an “expert” will often be accepted as one.

  25. Susan Payton says:

    Great post. I'm excited to see how these realities shift in a few years. More and more, I'm seeing Twitter mentioned in mainstream media, like on the UFC fight, or in Travel + Leisure magazine. I like that. I want more of it, because Twitter and social media are my language. And I like businesses that speak my language.

  26. RogerJH says:

    Good post, Michael, thank you for sharing. How interesting that most of your comments are around your assertion that there are no experts. I think I get what you are trying to say. The problem is that if you look at the definition of expert, it's hard to argue that some people in social media are more “expert” than others. That is, the word can be an adjective as well as a noun. Of course, we don't want to bog down in semantics! That said, when transparency and integrity online are so important today (in this age of spammers and e-charlatans), if someone calls themselves an expert, they need to justify that. So if Brian Solis (himself an expert?) says there is no such thing, it throws a negative light on those peoples' reputations and sense of worth. So I would say that some people are more expert than others but whether they call themselves an expert or not is a moot point. It's just a label.

  27. smartwomenstupidcomputers says:

    I love this post and I agree wholeheartedly. We do not have any social media “experts” quite yet.
    This is still in it's infancy and evolving. I am a web/blog designer, teacher and speaker so I am often asked my advice in these areas.
    I try to warn my clients to use caution when hiring “social media experts”, just as some of my clients have gotten so burned with so called “SEO” experts.
    Finally I have found great success, and new clients, by participation in relevant forums and actually developing trust and helping others. I advise my clients to do the same. I still believe in the end, it is all about relationships and building trust and great customer service.

    • Smartwomenstupidcomputers: your point about relationship and building trust and customer service is right on the money. Hotmail e-mail is right when she says that small business may not spend much money on marketing but the challenge is to know:

      a) where to spend the money for marketing most effectively, AND
      b) where and how social media comes in for a smaller company doing B2B

      Moreover, why should small businesses even know better if the big luxury brands fail miserably at this as well?

      Brian thanks for this post, nice and to-the-point as usual.


  28. ladyleet says:

    awesome post, michael! way to put things frankly.

  29. Smartwomenstupidcomputers: your point about relationship and building trust and customer service is right on the money. Hotmail e-mail is right when she says that small business may not spend much money on marketing but the challenge is to know:

    a) where to spend the money for marketing most effectively, AND
    b) where and how social media comes in for a smaller company doing B2B

    Moreover, why should small businesses even know better if the big luxury brands fail miserably at this as well?

    Brian thanks for this post, nice and to-the-point as usual.


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