September 30, 2009

The Top Five Misconceptions About Social Media

The Social Media Campaign by Gary Hayes and Laurel Papworth 2008

Ayelet NoffIn the years that I’ve been involved in social media, I have heard so many misconceptions and myths about social media that I am certain this article is long overdue. Here is a list of the top five misconceptions regarding social media:

Misconception #1: Social media is only right for certain brands

Often people ask me: “Is social media only right for web services or for ‘cool’ products?” The answer is no. Social media is right for every brand as long as the brand is able to find its target audience within a certain platform and converse/interact with it in an effective manner. Of course it may be exciting to do a marketing campaign for Apple than for Charles Schwab but for either one of those brands a targeted social media campaign within social networks and the blogosphere can bring amazing results as far as: Brand awareness, Overall buzz around the brand, traffic, customer loyalty and ultimately revenue.

In fact, often it is the “duller” brands that experience the most growth out of social media campaigns because they experience a more substantial change in popularity between their starting point A and their ending point B than the “cooler” brands. Take for example Mint which is an online personal finance service and was just bought by Intuit for $170 Million. Not the most exciting of startups perhaps and yet Mint is a fine example of a company that did a great job in using social media to maximize the buzz around its brand, making its blog magazine-like with articles about tips for young parents and other interesting content. Mint made their content so interesting in fact that users/blog readers promote the brand on their own.

Misconception #2: Social media is all about getting traffic — and quickly

Social media marketing is a long term process that takes time. Once a brand enters any network such as Facebook or MySpace, it takes time to build that brand’s community. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a community on Facebook. If you want to do social media marketing right and not just spam the hell out of people, you must use conversational marketing to engage them. Conversational marketing is all about conversing with your community. Learning more about their likes and dislikes, listening before speaking and reacting based upon the customers’ feedback.

Whoever thinks that he will open a Facebook page and reach tens of thousands of site visitors on the first day, is dead wrong. Brands that use social media to promote themselves will see a steady growth in traffic to their sites over time as their brand names become more and more viral within the networks – due to the increase in number of fans, number of tweets, exposure in blogs, etc.

Sure there are different ways which will increase the rate of a brand’s virality on the Web. For example, creating strong social incentives for people on your site which will increase their urge to promote your brand is definitely a factor which will heighten the public’s awareness. You can read more about social incentives in this post I had written last year. However, don’t expect to get thousands of visitors to your site before you’ve been able to build 1) a strong loyal online community 2) a strong incentives system to increase brand awareness. Both these goals take time to achieve. From my experience, it usually takes about three months to start seeing effective results when using social media tools.

Misconception #3: “By using social media we will lose control of our brand’s image”

Executives (especially in big companies) often think that their employees will go wild and start telling every horror story imaginable regarding their brand because the company will open a Facebook page. So here’s the scoop: People will talk about your brand whether you like it or not. Opening a Facebook page is not going to change it and not opening a Facebook page is not going to make it go away. The question is: Do you want to be a part of that conversation or not? By having a presence in social networks and blogs, you as a brand show your customers and employees that you care about their feedback and that you are there to listen and satisfy their needs.

I’ll give you a real-time example: My hosting company is Network Solutions. For a few days my blog wasn’t uploading and I started to get very pissed off. I tweeted “Network Solutions Sucks” and specifically addressed @Shashib – the guy who handles Network Solutions’ social media efforts. A few moments later I received a tweet back from Shashib. He wanted to hear what’s wrong and help me resolve the problem. He promised a Network Solutions agent would call me soon. Within a few moments I received a phone call from an agent who helped me fix the situation and upload my site. At that moment, Network Solutions won my customer loyalty forever (or until the next time they screw up :-)). Real time customer care is something that brands can utilize social media tools for (specifically twitter) like no other marketing tools they have had till now. We’ve already seen amazing examples of customer care from Zappos and Dell. Brands should not be afraid of engaging in honest and transparent conversations with their clients online but rather they should be very afraid of ignoring their customers’ complaints and pretending that everything’s fine when it’s not.

Misconception #4: Social media is just a fad

I often hear people who say that social networks are just a passing fad. This is what I have to say to them: Social media is an inevitable digital evolution of our desire as humans to communicate with one another. It is a desire that we always had and will always continue to have as long as we are human. I had written about this topic in the past. To say that social media is just a fad is to say that communication is just a fad. Here are a few stats that might help to change the mind of those who are still apprehensive:

1) Two-thirds of the global internet population visit social networks and time spent on social networks is growing at three times the overall internet rate, accounting for ~10% of all Internet time.

2) Visiting social sites is now the 4th most popular online activity — ahead of personal email!

Care to change your mind?

Misconception #5: “I don’t need a professional to do social media for me”

Many executives think that they don’t need a professional to help them with their social media activities. They’ll just take a student who has a few hours a week and get him to sit on the social networks and play with their company’s branding. It’s inconceivable to me how on one hand companies can be so cautious regarding beginning to use social media and on the other hand they’ll give the work to a mere student who could ruin their branding in a few hours just to save a few bucks. In order to engage in social media campaigns that are effective and successful, companies should use social media expert services at least in the first few months just to understand the specific rules of each community. One must remember that Facebook, twitter, Mixx, Bebo are all communities with their own set of rules and it is crucial for brands to respect the community’s rules in order to survive. Just like a company wouldn’t take on its PR on its own without consulting with a PR expert first, a company should not delve into social media without consulting with a social media expert. After a few months of training, I believe brands can take the work upon themselves, but they must not forgo the training period as they could do more damage than good for their branding.

These are the top five misconceptions I’ve heard regarding social media although I’ve heard many more. I would be delighted if you guys shared in the comments section some of the misconceptions that you’ve heard.

Photo credit: Gary Hayes and Laurel Papworth
Ayelet Noff is a partner in and founder and Co-CEO of Blonde 2.0, an award winning digital PR agency with branches in Boston and Tel Aviv. Contact Ayelet via The Blonde 2.0 website , email, or follow her on Twitter and Google Plus.

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15 thoughts on “The Top Five Misconceptions About Social Media

  1. More misconceptions that I battle all the time:

    1. Social Media causes my employees to waste time and not do their work. (That's a performance management problem, not a social media problem.)

    2. Not that many people in my market are going to use Social Media. (Not true in the first place. In the second place, the ones who do may not be likely to see you anywhere else. And, as Wexley School for Girls pointed out last week at INC500/5000 Conf, you brand is strongest when folks discover it and SN it themselves.)

    3. I don't have time for Social Media. (People also said that about radio, TV, Internet. Restate in this way, "I am willing to be obsolete."

    4. There are so many Social Media sites and platforms. I can't decide which ones to use? (Start somewhere!)

  2. This is great advice. I would add another thing that drives me nuts is when companies try to take their same old tired marketing tactics and just move them over to social media. If you are using social media to practice interruption marketing, you need to get a new consultant. This is an entirely different media and it merits a clean-slate approach to in order to be most effective. Thanks! Bret

  3. What a GREAT post! It is so difficult to overcome some of these misconceptions, so I've really taken to task to educate my customers (and prospects) through our own blog about the value that these services bring; they add a human face to an entity.

    I'd like to expand on @stevecollier's point #3 — I do think there are some companies out there that have difficulty finding time in which they can adopt some kind of Social Media strategy. I'm thinking specifically of the sole proprietors that may be wearing so many hats they feel like their head is about to explode. Like Ms. Noff mentions in point #2, adoption must be a gradual process for them in order to succeed, and they will be self-defeating if they only half-commit and don't see immediate results.

    Thanks for the info and I look forward to seeing more!

  4. Great article. Piggybacking @stevecollier's point above, some companies believe they must block access to social media sites inside their workplaces for fear of a loss of productivity. As @nickcharney tweeted the other day: “Don't deny access to social media tools based on productivity. If you have employees who waste time, they'll do it anyway #ALI”

  5. Good article. Although I don't totally agree on #5. I agree that you have to learn first what you can do with Social Media (this is a never-ending process) but after that it should be somebody or a team within your own company that does Social Media. Who can be better than yourself to talk about your company? Of course, as I said before, you can learn a great deal from "professionals" who know about Social Media.

    Thanks for the article!

  6. Great article, Ayelet. Another misconception: “Social media is just another tactic.” That's like saying relationship-building and listening are just “tactics” … and how sincere is that? Of course, any organization that approaches social media as “another marketing tactic” won't be doing much relationship-building or listening online, leading to a predictable fail! ;)

  7. Thanks for the nice comments everyone! I also want to say something regarding @stevecollier's #1 point: Employees that know how to utilize social media tools are a major asset to a company and not the opposite. Knowing how to manage social profiles, open a facebook page, gain followers on twitter – these are all invaluable skills that companies should look for in their employees. Companies should not block people from using social media at work but rather should block people who waste time at work from coming to work. Employees who like to waste time will find a way do it no matter what.

  8. I appreciate the concise articulation of the case for social media as a different universe from the one I've known. Ayelet, your point about knowing how to navigate this new world as a benefit to ones employer, rather than a time waster, is well taken.

    I have been learning a lot by participating in a virtual class offered by a company based in Minneapolis called Digital Wagon Train. I have 5 colleagues who are participating with me in 'learning to use Social Media to develop an online identity that resonates strongly with who I am and attracts the sort of people I most enjoy working with'. Here is their web address, FYI:

  9. Ayelet,

    This is the quote of quotes.

    'To say that social media is just a fad is to say that communication is just a fad.'

    It baffles me that people think communicating will go out of style anytime soon ;)


  10. Really good article. The misconception #5 is really important for companies. The figure of community manager or social media manager helps companies retaining the control of their image (Misconception #3), and this work must be done by a professional, not a student.

  11. Re: #3, Brands not engaging in social media have already lost control along with any influence they might otherwise have about what is being said online. Contributing to the discussion and embracing both the positive and negative are critical.

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