Be Contrarian About Social Media

by David C. Baker

Social media is a lasting fad. Yes, that’s a contradiction in terms, but it’s the new “internet” in that everyone wants to be on the bus when it gets there, but mostly they don’t really know where it’s going. It will obviously be around forever in some form, but the “irrational exuberance” is lemming-like.

As a business, the farthest you can safely go is to facilitate discussions about your brand, embracing a Libertarian philosophy of information, opinions, and engagement level. Business purposes that masquerade as personal authenticity are disingenuous and a violation of the authenticity consumers are increasingly longing for.

All of which is why there is no revenue model, because the more direct the dollars, the more people smell a rat, and at the moment, no one wants to pay for social media, just like they don’t want to pay for information.

Doing Social Media Well
I’d like to make seven specific suggestions on how to take the lead in this tremendous opportunity, doing it well right out of the gate.

One, understand that companies want to throw money at things to see what sticks to the wall, but they don’t want to commit long-term resources, so they are hiring outside sources (your firm) to do it for them. They can’t stomach the idea of paying employees to sit at their computers and do social media, which means that most of them don’t believe in it. Yet.

Two, do not do social media on behalf of your clients! If done that way, it’s by definition fake and counter to the medium. It’s a waste of their money, too, and they’ll remain dependent on you when they shouldn’t be. Teach their employees how to fish—don’t keep fishing for them. The best way to make money with social media (now) is to train your clients how to understand it and how to participate in it, letting any business impact be secondary.

Three, any social media for a client will be more effective if coupled with authentic internal alignment, because social media will surface whatever is true about the client, eventually.

Four, whatever social media you do for or recommend to clients should be a slow build, ensuring that each level is sustainable before moving to the next level of involvement. It’s easy to get caught up with experimental euphoria and end up burning out before the long term impact has had a chance to materialize.

Five, use social media personally so that you understand it as a consumer in order to advise your clients on how to understand consumers, even if you aren’t consulting them on social media specifically.

Six, if you’re going to share personal information, make sure you’re real and that you can handle the pressure that will come with divisive subjects and polarized audiences.

Seven, unless you are personally a celebrity, be cautious about mixing business and personal social media unless you want to do neither one very well and possibly lose both audiences.

When engaging in social media to promote yourself or your business it’s important to focus on authenticity. People can smell a rat from a mile away. Be true to yourself and your brand.

Quick Tips
1. While it’s not possible (or entirely logical) to calculate ROI on social media activities, any real attempt at measuring that must take the value of time into account. Some agencies are doing more experimenting now with social media because times are slower and experimenting is easier to justify.

2. Understand the factors that are driving the explosion of personal social media: People want more control; they’re disillusioned with the constant barrage of marketing messages, believing them to be full of marketing speak and unrealistic promises; and they’re looking for authenticity, in both personal and business contexts.

Dig Deeper!
1. Find posts about the successes (and failures) of other creatives who use social media, and get more advice on the topic, on Ilise Benun’s Marketing Mix Blog.

2. Download a 3-page version of this position paper from ReCourses.

3. Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching tells why he doesn’t use Facebook and follows only 25 users on Twitter in his article, Social Media Sins.

4. Check out the on-demand DesignCast 5 Ways to Use Social Marketing to Build Your (and Your Clients’) Business

3 thoughts on “Be Contrarian About Social Media

  1. Mark Mitchell

    I followed David’s advice and dove into social media myself with FaceBook awhile ago. I wanted to see what this is all about for myself. I established 3 goals for this. 1. To allow people to live vicariously through me. 2. To bring a smile to someone’s face. 3. To make people see that maybe they could live a little larger and have a little more fun in life.

    FaceBook is working really well for me in several ways. I’m now much more confident in advising clients about how to more effectively use FaceBook. I’ve also learned how to help them see the value very quickly. And while I never saw FaceBook as a business tool, I’ve gotten several new clients just by being myself.

    I’m on LinkedIn, way to serious and full of B.S. so far for me. I’m on Twitter but it still hasn’t clicked for me. My next focus will be on my blogs with more thought provoking opinion pieces. I just hope I can get under someone’s skin the way David Baker can!

    1. Bryn Mooth Post author

      Mark, thanks for the comment. I think you hit the nail on the head: find what works for you, and really go with it. Folks tend to get tied up thinking they need to be active on all these platforms, but that’s not the case.