Social media is great. In moderation

I’m a big fan of social media. It’s a great way to keep in touch with friends, to follow events and, as a marketer, to help my clients engage with their target audience.

But like any new technology, it’s been overhyped.

In the 1950s it was widely assumed that we would all be driving atomic cars by now.  With the first moon landings it was only a matter of time before we started spending our summer holidays in lunar hotels (I’m still disappointed that one didn’t work out). And the microwave was supposed to kill off the oven altogether.

The point is not that none of these technologies changed our world – they indisputably did – but that they didn’t change it in the ways, or to the extent, that the boosters at the time would have us believe.

And that brings us onto the web, and social media in particular. It’s been widely predicted that the internet will be the death of traditional media, something that certainly seems to be borne out by declining circulations and round after round of redundancies in newsrooms around the world.

That change has even been welcomed by many, who believe the ‘democratisation of news’ will make the world a more honest and open place.

And then something comes along that puts things in perspective. Since Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing on 8 March, Twitter has been abuzz with speculation, misinformation and downright nonsense. Claims the plane has been found have been spread by thousands of people, only to be denied minutes later. Complete novices, whose only knowledge of aviation comes from sitting on a plane on their annual holiday, have been provided a platform to advance their hare-brained theories on what happened.

There has been no shortage of intelligent comment on social media, but it has largely come from traditional sources: the BBC, Reuters, AFP. That has nothing to do with the democratisation of news and everything to do with providing traditional journalism with new platforms.

Marketing lessons

So what does this mean for marketers? Two things. First, social media provides you with a platform to talk about pretty much anything you like. The key is to resist the urge to do that and to stick to those areas in which you have credibility, something I’ve written about previously. If Nike talks about nutrition for a race, the chances are I will take it seriously. The same cannot be said for McDonald’s. Quality content is key.

Second, embrace new technology, but don’t get caught up in the hype. Social media has changed the way we communicate for good and should be a part of your marketing strategy, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it should be the only thing in that strategy. Print for example is enjoying a resurgence. Newsweek is re-launching its print magazine after going digital-only in 2012, while websites Pitchfork and Politico are also launching print versions.

Some brands can get away with using only social media, others without touching it at all. The vast majority though will require a more balanced approach.

New technology can be disruptive but it doesn’t necessarily mean it will sweep all before it. Not convinced? Try going to your local car dealership and asking for a model that runs on uranium.


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