I read a blog post from Elizabeth Shugg that raises very valid points about how social media just might be missing the mark. I recommend reading her entire post, but if you’re pressed for time, the nutshell version is this: Why is so much of social media purposely over the heads of the very people who NEED to understand it in order for social media to succeed?
Elizabeth asks six specific questions in her post. Rather than overwhelm her comments field, I’ve opted to answer them here. (If you’re in a hurry, I’ve highlighted my key points.)
1. Who exactly are the social media “experts?” What is a typical profile in terms of their experience and education?
Because the barrier to entry is so low, anyone with a blog or a Twitter account can claim to be a “social media expert.” Like all reputations, the proof is in the work. If you’re interacting with an alleged expert, know what YOUR criteria for being an “expert” would be, and then ask questions / do research to verify whether that person actually knows what he / she is talking about.
2. Who are the social media consultants directing their advice to? Other consultants? It seems mainly marketing and publicity professionals comment on these blogs, but rarely do I read input from representatives of other business departments.
Due to a need for validation, social media consultants often get trapped in a conversation loop with their peers. From the outside, it looks like the equivalent of 20 guys talking about which Green Lantern is their favorite*; if you’re not “in the know,” you’re never going to enter that conversation.
Also complicating the issue are elements like traffic, page rank, reach, etc. The tools that measure these aspects of a website’s clout are weighed toward the people who know how to use those tools — namely, other tech-savvy people. So for a social media consultant to be taken seriously, he / she needs to court the attention of the people who can drive up those numbers and help that website stand out.
And yet, ironically, social media consultants won’t have jobs if they can’t also explain these geek-friendly processes in layman’s terms. If someone can’t speak at both levels, they’re going to have a tough time being successful.
3. Is it possible to measure the demographics of Twitter followers? And if you have thousands of followers, how do you find the time to get know who they really are?
It’s not currently possible to measure the demographics of your Twitter followers, partly because Twitter itself doesn’t even measure its users demographics. That time will doubtlessly come.
As for “getting to know your followers,” that’s rarely the point of anyone using Twitter for business. Despite all the talk about “joining the conversation,” most businesses still use social media as a megaphone to broadcast their message to the public. Any “listening” is usually done from the POV of damage control. There are exceptions to this technique, but they’re few and far between — and, ironically, are sometimes chided by observers as a case of that business or person being “unprofessional” or “off-message.”
4. Everyone agrees Twitter is a great tool in the marketing toolbox, but it seems like some consultants see it as more than that? If so, why, and how?
It depends on how you use Twitter. If it’s just a megaphone, fine. But if you actually *do* take the time to listen, learn, interact and evolve along with your fellow conversants, Twitter becomes a mix of water cooler, newspaper, comedy club and self-help resource. Or, if you’re a business that can afford to allocate someone’s time to monitor and interact with customers on Twitter, you can build a deeper relationship with those people — and receive incredibly valuable feedback in the process.
5. What is the proper protocol when it comes to following people and businesses on Twitter?
That depends on your end goal. If you just want to be heard, follow everyone under the presumption that they’ll follow you back. If you have a specific audience in mind, only follow people in that niche. And if you’re just using Twitter as a personal outlet, only follow the accounts of people you know and / or consider interesting.
6. Regarding blogs, how important is juxtaposing keywords in a headline just to increase SEO? As journalism major in college, I was coached to write engaging headlines that entice readers. Web 2.0’s keyword-laden headlines don’t always work for me. Could this be the case for an audience of business leaders as well?
I’m no SEO expert, but I will say this: SEO is often a gimmick meant to make up for mediocre content. A well-written headline does the job of SEO simply by being interesting and compelling, which brings in traffic — which is what SEO is all about. (Cue the SEO experts who will tell me that SEO is a positive element of *any* website, regardless of how compelling or efficient that site is to begin with; that’s still ignoring the central issue of actual quality.)
That’s my POV. What’s yours? (And if you’re interested in these types of discussions, be sure to follow Elizabeth Shugg‘s blog as well.)
* Hal Jordan.