Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Case Against Social Media

Note: The bulk of this article was written a year ago. Since then Facebook exploded, Buzz fizzled and the more people are joining these networks.

I was just watching an interesting presentation on Social Media trends. Lots of graphs and numbers. Fascinating stuff.

But let's step back and look at what's really going on in the Social Media space.

MySpace was all about juvenile creative expression. Bands. Hooking up. Clearly, just the sort of brand News Corp. would be good at managing. To no one's surprise, after News Corp. took over, nothing new and interesting happened on MySpace. Twitter was simpler, and Facebook was private. Today, MySpace is a good site for music fan clubs and that's about it.

Facebook's original market differentiator was that is offered private communication with your classmates. Sure, you could still find that cute friend-of-a-friend to date on MySpace, but things were a lot more civilized and private than the bedlam of MySpace.

Facebook has the largest collection of photos on the Internet. Crushes the biggest photo site, Flickr.
Today, Facebook dominates the Social Media sector in the United States. But I believe the current surge in Facebook popularity is built on casual social games, not on status updates.

But Facebook wants to be even bigger. And it can't do that without visibility on  search engines like Google and Bing.
Unfortunately, making more content public destroys Facebook's original value proposition.
If they continue on the path of reduced privacy, I believe they become vulnerable. The market could easily fragment into smaller sites that share data, or another player could come in with different user expectations.

Facebook's customers are advertisers. The product is the members. But by abandoning their original differentiator, privacy, they've changed the product. Student-aged people coming to the site don't use their real names. They make up relationships and other information. They are polluting the product and will eventually erode the value of the product.

All of us technorati live on Twitter. It has replaced the blog article as our primary method of sharing information.  It has permanently changed journalism. It is an extremely valuable tool in PR and marketing.

The Answer is Not Social Media
There is a world outside of these Social Media ecosystems. Even on the Internet.

Recently, I poo-pooed Domino's Pizza's campaign on Twitter. A Dominos rep messaged me and asked if I would follow them so they could Direct Message me. The conversation ended there.

I assume that if I had "followed" them, and opened that line of communication, they would have sent me coupons for free pizza. But I chose not to.
The current metric of success on Twitter is follower count. This is idiotic, but that's how the game is played.  I'm not going to lend credibility to an idiotic campaign by giving Domino's my "vote."
The rep could have discovered 6 ways to contact me in 15 seconds if they had bothered. But they chose to limit the field of play to Twitter.
The problem with a lot of the Social Media initiatives is that they limit themselves to these specific platforms.
I no longer have a personal Facebook account, so I'm considered unreachable by many campaigns.
This is idiotic on many fronts. I am Search Engine Optimized! I over-share all over the Internet. You want to reach me? You can push a freakin' button on my web page to call my cell phone!

And let's talk about how Apple masterfully uses Social Media to... oh yeah. They don't care if you follow them on Twitter. And we can all see how that has seriously hurt the company. Right?

Many "success" stories we hear in social media are about hated companies using these social networks to inexpensively soothe irate customers who are lambasting them in public.
How about these companies change their practices to people don't hate them?

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