Thoughts on Social Media: Separating Hype from Reality

Borrowed from the brilliant blog, Where's My Jetpack?

Note:  Bruce and I have had many discussions about the rise of social media marketing, and he suggested that I offer up a white paper that I wrote earlier in 2009 that outlines my thoughts on the use of social media by companies for marketing efforts.  Below is a short excerpt of these thoughts, and you can download the full white paper by visiting the Business Thoughts page above or by clicking here.


Social networking. Web 2.0. User-generated content. Conversational Marketing. These terms have become ever present in the world of marketing communications over the last few years. But what do they mean? And, is this the revolution of marketing that many say it is?

Yes and no. Social media is not a fad, and as online access and usage has exploded over the past 10 years, a large majority of the public is now accessing some form of social media, be it through a social networking site like Facebook, or simply by researching product purchases online by reading user-generated reviews. But while millions of consumers use these new tools every day, their use by businesses seeking to connect with customers should be tempered with a solid understanding of the fundamentals of marketing and communications.

Why all the excitement among marketers about social media?

A couple of reasons: First, because more and more, this is where consumers are. In the past, marketers knew they could reach their audience through a handful of channels – television, radio, the newspaper. Even today, TV viewership is at an all-time high, with the average American watching more than 151 hours per month. But now, consumers are also spending nearly 30 hours per month online, where they are typically engaging in some form of social media. The numbers speak for themselves:

  • The share of US adult internet users – 74% of all US adults – who have a profile on an online social network site has more than quadrupled in the past four years — from 8% in 2005 to 35%, or 52 million as of December 2008.
  • Over 133 million blogs are being tracked by Technorati, an online blog search engine
  • 94.1 million US blog readers in 2007 (50% of Internet users)
  • More than 150 million users of the social network Facebook.

Secondly, this is where consumers are being significantly influenced in their purchasing decisions. People have always sought out the opinions of friends, family and colleagues, and the rise of online channels has expanded this circle of influence. Over 80% of adult internet users research products and services online, and it is the reviews and opinions of their peers that carry the most influence. Whether it’s a friend on a community forum, or a customer review on, the influence of word-of-mouth has grown exponentially as a result of the rise of social media.

Social Media and Traditional Media: Content is still King

Some companies believe in the “if you build it they will come” mantra when it comes to reaching consumers online. They see the millions of potential customers on a social network like Facebook, and immediately publish a Facebook page with a company logo, a link to the company’s website…and that’s about it. Soon they find that the only “fans” of their page, are some employees and their advertising agency. But a branded Facebook page is not a strategy – Word of Mouth advertising is.

Any communication channel, be it television, outdoor billboards, or a social network, is only as effective as the content it delivers to the audience. Taking the example above, a company that launches a Facebook fan page might garner a number of consumer “fans” at first, but if they do not begin to provide content that is relevant to this audience, they will soon have a static page that few visit. Companies must resist the urge to dive in to a new “hot” channel, before first understanding the needs of their target audience, as well as where and when they need to deliver content that meets those needs.

To read the rest of this white paper, please click here.

Written by Brice Blaisdell