Social media misconceptions

June 8, 2012

In his book Socialnomics, Erik Qualman draws attention on a basic fact: the time it took the radio to reach 50 million users was 38 years – TV took 13 years to do so, the Internet only 4 years, the iPod 3 years, while Facebook added more than 200 million users in less than a year. Social media made their appearance less than 8 years ago and have established their mainstream status at lightening speed.

It is no small wonder then that their inclusion in the marketing communication mix has at best been a hit-and-miss story, a trial-and-error approach that has produced many misconceptions and just a few certainties.

Here I want to highlight a few among these misconceptions, wondering what you think about them. Do not hesitate to comment.


1. A social media presence is not a strategy

Today we see a repeat of what happened about 12 years ago with websites: everybody in marketing communication felt they needed one, and fast. The web was the new frontier then, and social media are so today. So: you must be present asap on FB, Twitter, Pinterest, Youtube, G+, and on whatever new platform pops up. Really! Really?

I would tend to say “yes” first: make sure you secure your social media real estate. If you are “FourDot”, make sure you book your “FourDot” profile on existing and emerging platforms, just in case. It will save you trouble later trying to “buy back” your estate from others who have already taken possessionl. There is a parallel here too with websites: if you are in business, you’d better buy and .fr and .nl – that will really save money and time when you develop internationally.

But… do not at all take my “yes” as the final step. It is just a precautionary step. What you now need immediately is make sure you have a strategy, a global strategy. A marketing and communication strategy. Being present on the different platform is not a strategy. At best, it is a tactic, a tool. But such a tactic only makes sense when it is included in a strategy. Let me try to be even more precise:

  • there is nothing like a social media strategy – there is only a company strategy, a business strategy, a global strategy. Hint: there is nothing like a telephone strategy or an email strategy: you use telemarketing or email marketing to implement your corporate strategy. Telephone and email are tools. This also applies to social media.
  • social media are tools, while being social is a mindset, a way of thinking and acting that involves the whole organisation and company. And being present on social platforms does not mean you have adopted a social mindset. It only means you are using some social media tools, full stop.
  • objectives drive tactics, never the opposite: you cannot define objectives for tactics or tools you have decided to use in the first place… to do like everybody else. Objectives come first, tactics second, measurement and KPI’s third.

To illustrate what I mean with the strategy / tactics difference, here is some visual help:




2. Social media is all about getting followers and likes

An easy way to monitor your social media presence is the number or likes or followers. Easy but beside the point. Social media is more about giving than about getting. It is more about content than about numbers. It is more to do with trust than with money. Tara Hunt would say it is based on Whuffie, i.e. social capital. It is based on the relationship you build with a your audience / community.


Does this exclude money capital? Does this mean money is a swear word on social media? I’d say: not at all. It means that social media are just one of the many ways you can secure your objectives – making money, if you’re in business. But it does so in a different way, with specific KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) based on other parameters than traditional media. You can no longer be happy with a number of followers – you need to wonder what a follower means, what a like means. And this is only possible with respect to your own content strategy.





3. Everybody is on social media

Statistics about social media use are mind-boggling, with Facebook nearing the 1 billion landmark. Everybody seems to be on them. If you’re a female you must be collecting and sharing on Pinterest. If you’re keen on photography or video you’re bound to Flickr. But, hold on a minute. What does that mean exactly? Does that mean that everybody is doing similar things on those platforms? No! Clearly not.

There is a basic rule of thumb here, the 90-9-1 rule: among people active on social media and and on web 2.0 in general, 1% are content producers, 9 % are content sharers and 90% are “lurkers”, spectators, content consumers who are not really active. In a preceding post I presented a very interesting online tool provided by researcher at Forrester, called the Social Technographics Profile Tool. It enables you to quantify your audience per country in terms of their degree of activity and participation.

To take this one step further, I want to emphasize how much traditional socio-demographics are no longer relevant here. As usual David Armano captured this visually very efficiently. Tradional segmentation was based on the fact that some people with a particular socie-demographic profile could be considered as presenting a characteristic that was interesting for the marketing communicator: behaviour, likes, ownership, interest, … . In terms of degree of participation in social media this is no longer true. The notion of context has blurred this simple picture completely: mr or ms N can upload holiday pictures very actively on FB but never share anybody else’s, while his/her interest in saving energy turns them into active sharers of information about that specific subject without any photo upload in this area of interest. The context, not the demographic, determines how active they are.


Here are just a few elements to clear some often heard misconceptions about the use of social media and the participative web in marketing communication. Any comments or afterthoughts? 

Like this? Share it!

No comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.