January 13, 2009

What Social Media Is and What Social Media Is Not

By Mike Fruchter of MichaelFruchter.com (Twitter/FriendFeed)

This post touches upon what I feel social media is and isn’t. It does not matter what your purpose is for using social media. The key elements are and always will be the same. Your desired outcome is dictated by the basic fundamentals of the core of what social media is. This post touches upon the most important ones. I could have went on and on with this list, but I don't think that was needed to drive home what I'm trying to get across. Please feel free to add to it by leaving your thoughts and opinions in the comments.

What social media is:

1) Conversation: Social media is all about word of mouth. The message you are trying to convey might vary for personal or professional gain. This is the social in social media. Without this, it's just plain old media. Traditional marketing methods are one-way, one-sided. Social media and social marketing is all about two-way communication, never forget this. Marketing in the social web means you must participate, lead and when necessary react to conversation.

2) Commenting: This goes hand in hand with community and conversation. You should actively comment on conversations. If you have an opinion let it be known, otherwise you are a shadow lurking in the background. Comment only when you have something constructive, or positive to add to the conversation. Commenting just for the sake of commenting adds no real value, all it does is add clutter to the conversation. Commenting also reflects on you as the individual or brand, so always beware of that fact. Choose your words wisely, think before you act or react.

3) Community: This is formed from conversation. This is where people are talking. The communities may vary across all the social networks. Go where your existing and potential customers are talking and engage them. It could be on Twitter, Facebook, Yelp and so forth. If your goals are strictly for launching a new product, you should be creating a community around it and for it.

4) Collaboration: Work with anyone, anywhere to achieve a common goal. This should be key to any company, especially when launching a new product. Your customers could be anyone. Who better to solicit feedback and ideas about your product than the ones who are already using it? Going beyond that, the social web allows us to collaborate basically with anyone that's connected to the web. Collaboration fosters creativity and innovation. It would be foolish not to use it. Forget the costly and expensive R&D teams. Collaborate with your employees. Like your customers, they are the ones who know and work with your product day in and day out.

5) Contribution: First and foremost this means being helpful. What you put into social media, is what you will ultimately get out of it. It's really that simple. You need to contribute before you can ask for something in return. On Twitter, re-tweet valuable information from your followers and abroad. Contribute to the conversations going on around you. Every avenue of social media allows you to contribute and participate in someway shape or form. I don't think I need to expand on this any further.

6) Sharing: This aspect is especially true if you are using social media for personal branding. Share your knowledge with others through blogging. Knowledge is power, and by sharing it you, are arming people with power. Share and promote quality content whenever and wherever you find it. The knowledge you share either through blogging or Google Reader is the foundation for what social media is based upon, conversation. Always remember, sharing and self promotion is always a two-way street.

What social media isn’t:

1) Social Media isn’t easy. Anyone can set up a blog, Twitter and Facebook account. That's the easy part. You could teach a child to do that. It's how we use these tools that is the challenge. Social media takes time and plenty of it. It takes commitment and also an understanding of how things works. This is not something you can just jump into and reap the benefits. Like anything else you must crawl before you can walk.

2) Social Media isn’t the end all solution for every business. There are some industries that are very niche or for instance locally based, that social media is just not a viable solution for. Tom's pizza shop down the block could care less about social media. He might have a need for a website, maybe listings in the local Yahoo or Google search, but that's about it.

3) Social media isn’t about list building and Friending hundreds to thousands of people. Social media is about connections, meaningful ones at that.

4) Social media isn’t a "set it and forget it" type of medium. Read #1

5) Social media isn’t a replacment for SEO. It's simply an effective tool that compliments it, but should not relied upon as a total replacement.

6) Social media isn't about ROI (to some extent). If your goal is strictly to make money, you are not going to last to long. Social media is about VOI (Value of investment). Social media is about the conversation. You cant put a price tag on conversation. Instead, you should be measuring the success of the conversations. Currency in social media is valued in the content that is created along with relationships. Both of these elements are needed, not one or the other. The VOI is measuring value of the conversations. How many comments were left? Were they positive? How much buzz is happening on Twitter? How many back-links were generated in the search engines? What bloggers/blogs are talking about us? Did we build brand awareness, create and build customer loyalty? VOI is always measured for the long term and never short term.

I want to close this with a fantastic video by Perry Belcher called the 7 secrets of social media. I have embedded it below. Please take the time and watch the full video. It outlines a lot of what I have talked about in this post today, along with a few other key elements that defines how to successfully get involved with social media.

Image by Jason Vance under Creative Commons License.

Read more by Mike Fruchter at MichaelFruchter.com.