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Friday, May 22, 2009

A Skeptic's View of Social Media and Business

I read and commented on a Brazen Careerist post about why a business would not use social media. The post's, while more tongue in cheek than I initially realized, list of reasons were being obtuse about technology and unwilling to put a little effort into marketing. In other words even a primate who hasn't typed Hamlet yet gets social media.

At my insurance company we have evolved a bit, embraced the web as a great way to talk to customers, have talked about using more social media more, and have decided not to pursue it for now. There are a lot of other thing that we can use our web resources for, such as making information easier to find, improving our provider search capabilities, accessing personal health information, wellness tools, and an assortment of things to make navigating our health care system a little easier.

There's the old saying that your strategy is not to use a piece of technology but rather use the technology to achieve a strategy.

I sometimes climb with two co-workers. One is our web marketing manager and the other is a doctor who works on our Ehealth initiative. In other words, their jobs are about developing Web 2.0 tools and finding web-based platforms to achieve strategies. Both are in their 40's and have tried Twitter and Del.ici.ous, have Facebook accounts, Iphones, ask me about my blog. However, none of us have decided to use Twitter and the two of them stopped using Del.ici.ous after some initial use. These are the people at my organization who should be advocating the use of social media. However, they have tried it and haven't had their lives changed by it, or had their lives made easier, or even gotten that "value add".

These observations cause me to question how long it will take most social media to reach more than a niche audience. Facebook has become mainstream as there are 150 million users. Blogs have become accepted as mainstream new sources but when I searched for how many blogs there are in the world, current count was 112 million. I supposed that it's logical that there are less blogs than Facebook users since a blog is more effort. That does cause me to question assertions that blogging is a prerequisite for career, social development, and general evolution of the species. Especially since this assertion is mostly made by other bloggers and social media consultants. Regardless, Facebook and Blogs are fairly mainstream. In comparison, Twitter, with 15 million users is a still a larvae. While Twitter's use is rising exponentially, it does seem to be plagued by satire, accusations that is has jumped the shark, or that its evangelists are destroying it. No other platforms seem really close to picking up as many users.

This is the point in the argument where anyone involved in social media would show me a hockey stick graph that shows where users will be in 5 years. They probably are right. I also might be told that I don't get social media yet or I am the evolutionary equivalent of a monkey flinging its own poop. It did take reading a few blogs for me to get that social media is not a vehicle for pushing out marketing messages but rather a great customer feedback loop. The marketing comes from responsiveness to consumers, transparency, etc. Social Meteor's post of "Scared of Social Media?" best helped me understand how social media can be used.

The final piece of skepticism that I have yet to overcome about social media is number of users. At this moment, is it that large of a niche or is it more of an echo chamber of vigilant users? People who should embrace social media at my work don't quite yet. There are plenty of web-based improvements that will impact most of our customers in the next few years rather than a few who are currently hyperconnected.

Social media still remains on our strategy road map, but it's under 2012.

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