Social Media: What I Learned This Year

workerIn Social Media, there are no ‘experts’, only  people who are more experienced than others.

I am not an expert, but I have been active in Social Media for almost two years. I’ve blogged a few times a week since spring 2008, a total of 250 posts. My Twitter following just crossed 4000, I’m on 175 lists and I follow 3600 people. I have over 500 LinkedIn connections. I’ve dabbled in Facebook, Youtube, NING, SlideShare and Yelp. In that spirit, I offer these personal insights and lessons.

1. Social Media is ‘narrowcasting’, not broadcasting.

Social Media offers many advantages over other media channels. It’s relatively cheap, highly engaging and can be a lot of fun. However, it builds slowly and has too narrow a reach to rely on it to get the word out. Given the choice, I wouldn’t trade my brief mentions in  in TIME magazine or the Financial Times, for a feature on Mashable.  Dan Schwabel said something similar in an interview with TTNG recently:

TNGG: You’ve written a book despite having a blog. Why is it that everyone in the social media space seems so compelled to get published offline, in a book? Is it that publishers are trying to get in on the buzz of social? Or do you still feel you need the offline accomplishment to legitimize you?

Schawbel: A blog hasn’t been completely accepted by society. The word “magazine” and “book” are still more powerful than “blog.”  Books, such as Me 2.0 (Schwabel’s book), are more legitimate, linear and credible than blogs. If you have a book, it will be easier to get new business and press mentions. Also, another reason to publish a book is to reach the offline audience. In 10 years, a successful blog may be enough credibility.

2. Social Media is about talking to people who think like you do, not winning hearts and minds.

It’s easier to connect meaningfully with people who share your interests; the narrower your interests, the easier it is to find them.  I am pretty confident that I know most of those active on Twitter who are seriously interested in Millennials, generational marketing, Notre Dame football, and using technology in the classroom. For me, Social Media may even have diminishing returns going forward; it took me much longer to get to 3000 followers than 2000, and it took even longer to get to 4000.  I have serious doubts about whether 5000 is possible or even desirable.

 3. Social Media can insulate you from different points of view.

Spend a lot of time talking to your network and you can be misled into thinking everyone thinks the way you do. To hear dissenting voices, you cannot rely on your own network.  This point was driven home to me last spring when I  discovered at a CMO Club event that many CMO’s are skeptical about whether Gen Y truly represents a new type of consumer, distinct from young audiences of the past (i.e, not just younger versions of themselves).

4. Effective use of Social Media requires enthusiasm and diligence.

Consistency is required or you will drop off the axes of your social graph fairly quickly. Conversely, stepping up activity brings disproportionate rewards. Two weeks ago I made a commitment to post to this blog every day. My blog traffic immediately jumped 30% as stayed there as long as I was blogging daily. It dropped back this weekend when I cut back again. I have come to think of it as ‘feeding the beast’.

5. In Social Media, it’s best to think of yourself as the target audience.

I am my own best audience. ‘What would I like to read?’ seems to be the best test for deciding what to post or tweet.  I enjoy having a trackable, searchable record of my travels through the Internet. I often refer to the RSS feed of my Tweets that flows into my email. It’s all there, nicely labeled.

6. It’s easy to confuse Social Media with real life.

Spending a lot of time on Social media can feel a little like David After Dentist- “is this real life?” I don’t make money from Social Media so it’s hard to justify the time I spend on it on it solely on the basis of ROI. My time is finite, so I have to take care to prioritize my time reading blogs and Twitter relative to the time I spend reading books, traveling, networking on the phone, talking with clients and students, writing whitepapers and articles for publication.

 7. Social Media is about people, not brands.

Marketers like to think of social media primarily as media, but for most people — and especially for Gen Y —  it’s purely social.  Yes, brands are a key part of many an online conversation, but that has always been true in analog life as well.  TV, radio and magazines are primarily about marketing. Social Media is not, and marketers should beware thinking of it that way. Social Media is  friendlier to individuals than to brands. That’s why I tweet and blog as @Carol_Phillips, rather than as @BrandAmplitude . For brands, social media appears to be getting more traction in its application to customer service than conveying brand or promotional messages. I follow very few product brands, agencies or media brands, but I follow many CMO’s, creative directors and journalists.

7. Social Media is fun.

When my kids were small, I used to marvel at the fascination they had with any kind of television. The slightly open-mouthed  ‘TV stare’ meant they were mesmerized; it was hard to look away. I sometimes have a similar sense when reading tweets or deciding what to ReTweet — it’s hard to look away.  Social media combines the intrinsic rewards of a game and socializing. It’s potentially addicting and I expect we’ll be hearing more about how it impacts people’s real lives — for the better and the worse — in the coming years.

I’m looking forward to more lessons in 2010. but first, I plan to take a hiatus to reconnect with books, magazines and my analog life. Meanwhile, what have you learned about social media? Be social, let’s share!

Happy New Year, see you in January!