The greatest emerging trend of the last decade has been the hype surrounding digital social media. With technology making it possible for people to network in an entirely new way on the internet, the word “social” has taken on a new meaning altogether. With the emergence of this new society that socializes virtually on the World Wide Web, marketing gurus have jumped on to the social media bandwagon too. The fact that this is still an uncharted territory in terms of possibilities has led to the proliferation of a host of myths. Here is a close look at three important facts in order to get a correct perspective on the fiction.
1. Social media is used by 10% of the world’s population
A significant chunk of the world’s population is on Facebook, Twitter, and other social networks. What you might not be aware is that this is just a third of the nearly 30% of the world’s population that uses the internet in some form of the other. What is also not so obvious from this statistic is how many of them actually actively use their social media presence for networking purposes. For a large number of people, the only time they might have ever used their social network is when they set up their accounts. The rate of adoption of these digital platforms is promoted from the rooftops by the platforms themselves as well as by new media evangelists, but statistics about how many of them stay back and network on a frequent basis is not.
2. Social Media can change the world
The recent developments in the Middle East and the Wall Street protests have shown how social media can be used to bring people together. The Japan earthquake and tsunami is also a good example of how social media can be of immense help in times of need. In many senses, the new media is truly making significant changes to the world. What people gloss over is the frailty of this medium as it exists now. The Arab Spring movement really turned into a mass movement after the Egyptian government pulled the plug on the internet, resulting in many activists coming and joining the people out in the streets. In Japan too, during the tsunami, internet access was disrupted, and it was the old fashioned tsunami warning systems and infrastructure that helped the people survive the disaster. The recent Blackberry outages and the earlier failures of some of the largest cloud computing and storage systems are further proof that the digital media has some distance to go before it can claim to change the world.
3. Social media marketing is cheap and effective
Looking at a social media strategy in terms of total cost, it does appear to be cheap. Given the extent to which you can customize your media plan and target audience, it does appear to be effective. But the catch lies elsewhere. Reaching your target audience and being noticed by them at a low cost is truly very attractive. However, the goal of marketing is to engage your target customer and encourage him or her to close on a transaction. While brand-building through social media seems cheap and efficient, it is still too early (and this is after more than a decade of social media marketing studies) to measure its efficacy in converting leads to sales.
Human society is an organic and evolving entity, and digital social media is perhaps nothing more than a blip on the radar on its journey. It has begun to replace real life interaction with virtual status updates. Spouses wish each other on their anniversaries on their social networks. Instead of getting out there and physically helping people achieve the change, armchair activists sit at their computers and comment on the state of affairs. All of these have their value in the era that we live in. At the same time, it is important to separate the facts from the fiction and take decisions that will positively impact the world around you. Social media is new and exciting, and perhaps still in its infancy. As time passes, the trivial aspects of this media will fall through and the enduring and robust values will emerge. Till then, it might be a good idea to spend more time with your physical social network, the real people around you in your daily life.