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Social Media Guruism: Mostly Harmless

One of our commenters, WebsterJ, recently made the astute observation:

So Derek calls out SEO as a scam while touting social media - a field that is quickly cornering the market on snake oil. Fast talking social gurus charging boring clients with nothing interesting to say big $$$ to make Twitter profiles, blogs and Facebook pages that will bring in zero return. They just make the client feel like they are "doing social media."

Heh. Indeed.

Social Media Guru Snake Oil

Social media, used as a means to make money, is - mostly - useless.

Now, before a gaggle of unemployed social media gurus accuse me of doing the same thing as Powazek, I'm going to hedge my rant.

But first, let's have some fun.

Why $ocial Media Doesn't Work

Social media - and by social media I'm mostly talking about Facebook & Twitter - doesn't work for many businesses, and never will, because the medium is not the message.

Yet that is how a lot of social media marketing is approached.

Companies are being encouraged to create Facebook pages and open Twitter accounts to announce to the world they have nothing to say. Well, that would happen if anyone was actually listening.

Which they're not.

People aren't listening in the same way they're not reading email newsletters they signed up for a few years back and can't remember why. They'd unsubscribe, only that would require effort.

Highlight. Delete.

Likewise, most Tweets and Facebook entries dissolve into the ether, unread and unloved.

Obviously, just using the medium is not communicating, building brand, or creating engagement. That requires reflection, strategy, focus and having a story worth listening to. If a person or company has nothing to say, then creating a social media channel isn't going to help.

First, they must have something worth saying. Then they must say something people want or need to hear, and say it in a way that resonates with the audience.

The problem is....

Many People Have Nothing To Say And Few People Are Listening

In the past few minutes, I've seen the following tweets:

"Head hurts. Going to bed early..."

"Trying out tweetie2"

"hehehehehehehehe"

Riveting stuff, certainly.

Sure, I'm being facetious. Selectively pulling out the personal stuff. So how about people doing social media business?

If you're a masochist, or a psychologist examining the growing problem of delusions of grandeur amongst generation Y, you could do a lot worse that following a few social media gurus on Twitter:

"Marketing is a vulgarized concept. That's why we see so many brands lacking credibility in the digital world. Windows, not mirrors folks"

Huh?

That's almost as bad as some of mine! And to think, some people are worried that Twitter will get innane when it becomes mainstream.

Here's a good example of implementing a social media channel with seemingly little thought given to the message or the audience: huskerchevrolet.com

Twitter. Check.

Facebook. Check.

Something worth saying? Erm....

There's not a lot of strategy behind much of this stuff.

Show Me The Money

Count up the hours you spend on Twitter or Facebook, then figure out how much money you made for each of those hours of effort. I'm guessing the result for most people is somewhere around zero. Now deduct your hourly rate - and other opportunity costs - for each of those hours.

But wait, I hear some people say. "Social media is about attention! About getting noticed! Getting on radar!"

They didn't really say that. I just made that up. The only person here is me. But it sounds like something a social media guru might say, especially if they were charging by the hour at the time.

People place a lot of importance on getting attention. They point to the number of followers as if that metric means something. It doesn't, of course. The important metric is how many of those followers are paying attention and then engaging in a way that contributes to the bottom line.

How many social gurus are measuring the bottom line, I wonder?

Argument By Selective Observation

But wait, some imaginary social media guru interjects, pausing only to push his sunglasses onto the top of his head:

"What about Spunk2PointZero.com? They killed with their recent social media campaign that netted $1,000,000,000,000 in two hours!"

No matter how inane, publicity stunts can work. Once. Early adopters can benefit from being first - they are remarkable simply because they are first. But once the followers arrive, the stunt is no longer remarkable, and the technique is no longer repeatable. The medium was the message, but not for long.

Social media has grown past the stage of being remarkable for its own sake.

Also, what works in one area may not translate to other areas. Wired companies can use leading edge communication channels because that's where their customers are. These communication channels might not work so well if you're selling cheese to housewives. I know this sounds weird, but they probably still listen to the radio.

The rule "go where your customers are" still applies.

Join The "Conversation"

Is it possible to have a conversation in Twitter or on Facebook?

Perhaps, on a superficial level, but mostly it's quick blast of - and I use this phrase loosely - information.

A lot of people who wrote some really interesting, deep, valuable stuff in forums and on blogs migrated to Twitter, used it a bit, then stopped. I think that happened because there was no value in it for the writer. Conversation didn't happen. Relationships weren't being built.

A temporary shot in the dark.

Perhaps that is why people update social media channels so often. Social media only exists in the now, and if you're not posting right now, you don't exist.

But is there anything worse than the compulsive updater? "Going to Reno tonight! Feeling pumped!". Millions of people saying nothing to millions of people who aren't interested.

Unfollow.

Pretending To Work

Social media is mostly a waste of time.

And that's exactly why I have a Twitter account :)

We all do. Why? It's fun. It can be fascinating. Useful, even. But for most people, even most business people, it's not really about doing business and making money. It's about being, well, social and pretending to work.

When Social Media Works

Ironcly, social media works wonders when combined with that other well-known scam, SEO.

Brent Csutoras, in a comment on SEOWorld put it well:

When you have content that becomes popular on sites like Digg, Reddit, or Delicious, you get in front of the largest body of linking individuals on the web. Most journalist, media, and bloggers/webmasters watch the front page of these top social news and bookmarking sites to get current and popular content to use for their own site, magazine, newspaper, or show.

By having your content in front of this group of people, you are likly to get a lot of natural links to your content. Sometimes you can get links up to a PR9 level such as TBS, MSNBC, AOL, Wired, Huffington Post, all of which i have personally received off of successful campaigns.

How many social media gurus talk about this angle?

Ever listen to Chris Winfield speak? That guy can create a brand from scratch. And that is the other area social media works well: brand building.

Much social media theory is nothing new. It's regurgitated brand theory. You create value by recognition and having customers engage and spread the word. It helps get the message out. Driving brand awareness, particularly with youth and wired demographics.

Building brand, and the benefits that come from that - engagement, word of mouth, connection - are where social media can excel if executed as part of a coherent strategy. It's cheap. It's cheerful. It's fun.

All good stuff.

The trick is to....

Measure it

Find out how social media translates to your bottom line. If your social media guru can't demonstrate that, s/he is a waste of space. Social media must either increase sales, or cut costs, or both. If it doesn't, it's not business, it's just time wasting. If it can't be measured, then there's a good chance it isn't happening.

Agree? Disagree?

Do you measure your return on social media?

Abuse, constructive or otherwise, in the comments please :)