October 24, 2009Social Media

I found my way to DrinkTank earlier this week. It’s a networking event for new web startups in Covent Garden. Naturally, there was a lot of networking going on. I don’t network very well, to be honest — I prefer to talk to people one on one. ‘Elevator pitches’ tend to be forgotten thirty seconds after the thirty seconds they take to deliver. When you hear sixty in a night, no one person’s voice stands out from the crowd.

So I got talking. I didn’t go to pitch my services, rather I went to brush up on the latest developments on the web. What are London’s finest web entrepreneurs talking about?

Well, unsurprisingly, the present obsession is social media. What did surprise me somewhat was how cynical many of the people I met were about it.

Web entrepreneurs think social media has limitations

One person — whose business is basically centred around Twitter — told me, in devastating words, “social media is just a buzzword… it’s the new SEO… all the people who were marketing themselves as SEO experts or gurus or whatever a couple of years ago, well, now they’re the social media experts. Of course they know nothing about either.”

Of course he’s right. SEO was an arcane art and promised more than it could deliver — usually because it attracted one real expert to every ten cowboys. It seems the majority of web entrepreneurs feel social media is going the same way.

People are five times more likely to trust social media than other ads — but for how long?

I’ve been doing a lot of work in social media lately. I think I know a lot about it — I’ve been blogging almost nine years, I was on Facebook when there were only a few ‘university networks’ and you had to have a uni address to join (remember that?) and I can cogently argue using examples, metrics and conversion rate statistics to explain to you exactly why I don’t bother using twitter.

The most interesting statistic I’ve dug up on social media is this: people are five times more likely to trust a recommendation from a friend than they are an advert on the web (stat derived from Socialnomics). That’s not surprising in itself. In fact, it seems like stating the obvious.

What I do wonder is how long that will carry on for. I see an enormous amount of social media “experts” all jumping aboard the bandwagon trying to use social media as a cheap, ROI rich way of advertising. There’s little evidence that social media boosts conversion rates although as I’ve said elsewhere, “you can’t put a price on a conversation, or value the ability to get inside your customers’ heads.”

But I’ve come to look upon social media as something of a goldmine. Incredibly valuable at first. But sooner or later, it’ll run out.

My fear is that the more and more we use social media to push products,
The more social media will become devalued as a platform.

People trust it at the minute because they’re not cynical towards it,
The way they’re cynical about ads on radio or TV.

What will happen if social media marketing campaigns are mismanaged? I know some very good ones — in fact, I’m working on one right now. But I do begin to fear the backlash as more and more companies rush to cash in on virgin markets.

People trust social media. The question is, will the increased use of social media to market goods and services result in a loss of trust — or will social media find a way around it?

Will it, essentially, learn how to reject the most overt advertising campaigns, and pour scorn on the people who use it wrongly, as it did when Habitat attempted to use Twitter?

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This entry was posted on Saturday, October 24th, 2009 at 2:22 pm and is filed under Blog, Social Media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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