Don't Get Stung by Social Media


By Samuel Greengard

Right now, social media is all the buzz--and for good reason. It connects people in new and profoundly different ways, and it allows a fundamentally different type of interaction: bottom-up and side-to-side rather than merely top-down. Used effectively, social media is also a remarkable marketing tool and research lab for businesses.

Today, Facebook and Twitter boast hundreds of millions of users. But behind the glitzy façade, it's apparent that the luster is beginning to wear off. Recent surveys, as well as numerical analysis of Web traffic, indicate that the use of Facebook is on the decline. Although Twitter use remains steady, it's glaringly apparent that many sign up but don't use it. In fact, some studies show that only about 25 percent of Twitter users are active.

The reasons for this decline in use are varied: new and competing social media services, the accumulation of too many friends and followers who don't matter, and a finite number of hours in the day. One thing is crystal clear: The signal to noise ratio just keeps rising and people are reaching their saturation point.

It's tough enough to keep up with 20 friends let alone 500 or 5,000. At a certain point, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterist, you name it, wind up becoming nothing more than additional inboxes filled with clutter or spam.

Social media isn't going away. But, for companies stampeding into this arena, it's critical to maintain some perspective. For one thing, the space is evolving rapidly, and catering to user's preferences and desires is a moving target.

While consumer use of social media is beginning to trend downward, business use is trending upward. I'd venture to say that, in this case, consumers are the leading indicator and businesses are the lagging indicator.

For another, it's possible to get so caught up in the hype that it's easy to lose sight of a basic fact: Social media is only part of an overall arsenal of business and IT tools. Overweighting social media--especially relying too heavily on analytics to provide insight into trends and behavior--may lead to an incredibly skewed view of the marketplace.

All those people who don't click "Like" or don't bother to follow on Twitter may still be valued customers--if not the most valuable customers. They might also provide clues about how to run the business better.

Devote the right level of attention to social media and you will likely watch the business flower. Pay too much attention to the buzz and you might get stung.