Five Popular Social Media Myths Debunked and More.

by Joe Buhler, Principal, buhlerworks

Myth Nr. 1 – Social Media is a passing fad and usage will decline

With Facebook approaching 800 million global users and one in every seven minutes spent by people online and three out of every four minutes on social network sites spent on Facebook according to a recent comScore report, I think we can definitely put this myth to rest. The fact that Twitter is increasing its user base 59% over the past year and has now over 100 million is further proof that social media is here to stay and sharing of information on these major networks will continue on a growth curve.

After Google+ was introduced last year by the search giant the user base has grown to over 90 million today with 625,000 users being added daily and a 200 million user number being considered by end of 2012.

In addition there is the latest phenomenon to have appeared on the scene, Pinterest, a visual sharing site growing from 20 million page views in May to over 421 million in October despite the fact it still is in an invite only beta mode.

In travel and tourism we have TripAdvisor, which is now one of only a few travel sites integrated with the new Facebook Timeline. This will further raise the level of awareness, importance and influence for the leader among travel review sites. After recently having been spun off by Expedia, the company has a similar size market cap of $4 billion as their former owners.

These numbers speak for themselves and even if the leaders would stop growing, or even fail, which is hard to envisage, they have created an entire ecosystem of innovators that would take their place and continue to enable social interaction on the web.

Myth Nr. 2 – My customers are not using Social Media

Looking at the numbers mentioned here, this seems a moot argument. All the more so when the highest growth numbers over the past few years have come from the 50+ age group with boomers and even the older generation spending considerable and increasing time on Facebook to enjoy never before possible options for communicating with friends, family and distant relatives. In addition, the introduction of business pages on Facebook, and Google+ the B2B use of these social networks in addition to Twitter has not only become possible but essential. As people become more familiar with the use of these social tools in their personal sphere, they will discover that interacting with companies and brands can be as easy and often more fun as well. Does this mean that every business on earth needs to have a Facebook page or Twitter account? Probably not, but for the vast majority in travel and tourism, an outpost on the largest communications platforms on the globe where hundreds of millions of people interact has become an essential part of the marketing mix.

Myth Nr. 3 – Social Media is about Technology and Tools

If that were true, then the rapid rise in the number of users of social networks over the past few years would not have happened. At its most basic, this is about sociology much more than technology. People have always had an innate desire and even need to communicate and share information with each other. With these, easy to use web based tools this has just been made so much easier and for many very compelling. To sign up for an account is easy, free and without long term commitment.

Of course, for many, the initial fascination wears off but for millions more; it becomes a regular and welcome activity. The numbers about time spent on social networks mentioned earlier are ample proof and the curve continues to point upward, while the use of other media including newspapers and television is in continued decline.

This has serious implications on businesses of all kinds and in all industries. There is no alternative to getting involved on the social web. Before doing so, however, it is of key importance to remember the purpose of these social networks. It is foremost about communications and interaction between individuals. People do not sign up for Facebook to be bombarded with incessant and irrelevant advertising messages. Most of those are ignored. The main purpose of a presence on the social web is not to continue the old and tired one way form of interruption marketing. To use social media effectively requires the right mindset before getting engaged and expose a brand to the conversation going on in that vast marketplace in the cloud.

Myth Nr. 4 – Social Media is Free

Knowing that the social web is first and foremost not about technology, it should become increasingly clear that to be an active participant on the social web is not free. The tools are free, which is a great advantage for many, as it levels the playing field. Any small business can be on an equal footing with major corporations, or even have an advantage over them by being more authentic and personal. But then it becomes necessary to spend time and effort to manage and maintain an active presence, to listen, learn and then engage in a meaningful manner. This is not about a campaign or two, but an ongoing long term commitment. Before making that commitment it is essential to ask the key question “Why?” If there is no clear answer to it, success will be difficult to come by. Once the purpose is clearly defined and is compatible with the business culture, one of honest and authentic communications, it is time to address the “What?” and “How?” which includes the use of the most effective tools. A social web engagement not based on, and integrated with, overall business and marketing objectives is bound to be a failure. That this cannot be free, or the job of an intern or junior staff should by now be crystal clear.

Myth Nr. 5 – There is no ROI for Social Media

Now, we come to the last, and in many respects the largest myth. This is the perennial question about the return on investment (ROI) for all this social media activity and engagement with existing and potential customers on the social web. Here is how the dictionary defines “investment”:

investment |inˈves(t)mənt|
The action or process of investing money for profit or material result.
A thing that is worth buying because it may be profitable or useful in the future.
An act of devoting time, effort, or energy to a particular undertaking with the expectation of a worthwhile result.

If the first part of this three part definition is taken, and this is what those with a financial bent are bound to do, the answer is less than straightforward. Marketing activities of all kinds are usually not considered investments but expenses on a corporate P&L. For decades, based on this narrow definition there have been those who claim that for this very reason, there is no measurable ROI for marketing.

Using the last part, however, the issue should become much clearer. As mentioned earlier, for social web engagement to be successful, it needs to be based on overall business objectives and integrated with other marketing activities. Once those objectives and goals are clearly defined it becomes possible to measure all activities against them, and that includes social media. In other words, to be able to show a positive ROI is mainly about the definition of key performance indicators. This then, is no different and no less possible for social media than for any other marketing activity. Is there an ultimate benefit to the bottom line? If we assume there is one for marketing in general, then the answer for marketing on the social web is also clearly yes,

Looking at these five myths, which should by now be exposed for what they are, let’s get to the “more” part of the title. This deals with the key difference between what can be called “doing” social versus “being” social. If we accept the premise that today, social networks and social media; more correctly defined as the “social web”, play a central role, and significantly influence how people communicate and interact with each other, with companies and organizations of all kinds across the globe, then it should become clear that merely dabbling in social media is no longer a valid business strategy. Going forward requires becoming what in fact is a social business. What does this mean? It means an organization that is actively listening to, learning from and engaging with people, both those within the organization and those on the outside. In this new type of social business, every employee is empowered to take responsibility when dealing with customers, there is no passing of the buck or “it’s not my department’s responsibility” mentality. To make this social business a reality, requires the right culture and the building of that starts at the top of the pyramid with the CEO, the owner, the principal. There can be no more disconnect between the leadership level and the people on the frontline. There can no longer be a discrepancy between the promise of the brand message and the product or service delivery. Such a negative gap will become immediately obvious to today’s ever more demanding, connected and, yes, empowered, customer. It is not hard to imagine the impact this will have on the so often mentioned bottom line.

We have today truly arrived at “the end of business as usual”.