Is Social Media Too Big For Its Own Good?

18 09 2009

If you believe the buzz, social media will be huge. But is it already too big for its own good?

In marketing, you can’t be all things to all people. It makes it too hard for people to know who you are and what you stand for. Could Social Media be a victim of its own PowerPoint?

How To Learn Social Media In Just 5,000 Easy Lessons has 5,000 presentations and counting, trying to explain social media. Why?

I suspect it’s because explaining social media is like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall; it won’t stay in one place.

Is Social Media online customer service? Or a way for angry consumers to complain? Both.

Is it online PR? Or online market research and crowdsourcing for innovation? It’s these, too.

Is it a Facebook brand page? Or is it a Facebook-like community, but ONLY for one brand? Yep.

Is it a video sharing page for brand communications?¬† Or a viral video? Yes, it’s all those.

Or is it one of these 1500 (and counting) examples? Definitely.

It wobbles randomly from PR to customer service, then leans diffidently toward advertising before wobbling back toward market research. The more we struggle to make social media make sense as “all of the above” the less it seems like we know what we’re talking about.

Social Media, Translated

What If Social Media Isn’t An Elephant?

I’m sure you all remember the old parable of the blind marketing MBAs and the elephant?

They thought each individual part was a separate thing and didn’t understand that it was part of a larger animal.

What if each distinct part of what we thought was an elephant turns out to make a lot more sense on its own?

Maybe it’s time to stop treating Social Media like it’s a whole different animal. Maybe we can just incorporate what we’ve learned back into the distinct and easy-to-explain disciplines of PR and market research and customer service.

If we did, we could expend a lot less energy trying to explain what Social Media is, and just get on with it.

What am I missing? What are the drawbacks to this way of seeing the elephant that I’m blind to? Can you offer a better solution?