EDIT: This is a reposting of my post that originally appeared on Widmeyer Communications' website. I realize it's a little late considering when Ayelet's post originally came out, but I don't think these misconceptions have changed much in that time.
Top 5 Misconceptions About Social Media
Ayelet Noff, over at Socialmedia.biz, has a great post on the top 5 misconceptions about social media. This is something I have seen from clients and potential clients in my work personally, but also something that echoes throughout the industry. Many clients are comfortable with the ‘old media’ way of doing things and now that the buzzwords of the day are Twitter and Facebook, these clients are a bit hesitant to use social media. I think Ayelet has accurately captured those concerns.
Misconception #1: Social media is only right for certain brands
Noff correctly states that “Social media is right for every brand as long as the brand is able to find its target audience within a certain platform and converse/interact with it in an effective manner.” Social Media is social. That means you have to actively engage your audience in a conversation. You need to talk with them, not at them. That doesn’t mean you need to use all of the latest, hippest tools to do it, but if you have a business, it’s extremely likely that in 2009, your audience is online somewhere. Join in the conversation where it’s already happening.
Misconception #2: Social media is all about getting traffic — and quickly
Noff says, “Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is a community on Facebook.” I think this misconception is probably the most important one of the whole article. I can’t tell you how many clients think that by making a Facebook page, their website will crash from all the resulting traffic from their new ‘friends.’ To be fair, it’s not entirely their fault. The mainstream media will have you believe that everyone on YouTube becomes famous overnight. And yes, there have been lots of sensations and fantastical things that seem to appear out of nowhere. Because information is so easy to share on social media sites, the tendency is to believe that everything will just magically get a million views just like that.
The reality is less sexy, but no less important. You need to engage with your audience and have that conversation in order to build trust. As their trust in you builds, they’ll turn to you first to find the solutions to their problems. And they’ll tell their friends about it. But these things take time. Think about your own relationships in real life: how many of you completely trusted and felt like they knew someone the moment they met them? Likely, not many of you. And if you do think you did, it’s probably due to the positive feelings you attribute to that person in retrospect.
Social media is a tool. And it’s a tool for you to use for the long haul. Is your brand just in it for tomorrow or are you in it for the long haul too?
Misconception #3: “By using social media we will lose control of our brand’s image”
NEWS FLASH: You already don’t have control of your brand. What?! Before you fall out of your chair, let me tell you that this is not necessarily a bad thing and you are not losing ALL control either. This is the quote that hits the nail on the head: “People will talk about your brand whether you like it or not. Opening a Facebook page is not going to change it and not opening a Facebook page is not going to make it go away.” People are going to talk about your brand no matter what. If someone has a good experience they’re going to tell people about it. How did you find out about your doctor? I’m willing to bet it was a referral either from a friend or family member or another doctor. But I bet you didn’t hear about your doctor from an advertisement.
The same applies if they have a bad experience- people will talk. Social media just makes it easier to talk, but rest assured, people are still talking about you regardless. Injecting yourself into the conversation shows your customers and audience that you care and are willing to talk with them. If you’re not willing to have an open conversation then the problem lies more with you than with your customers. If they have your trust, you’ll find that they often will do the good kind of talking for you.
You can’t completely control the conversation but you can be a part of it and help to steer it rather than just sit on the sidelines and watch it pass you by.
Misconception #4: Social media is just a fad
“Social media is an inevitable digital evolution of our desire as humans to communicate with one another. It is a desire that we always had and will always continue to have as long as we are human.” Like Misconception #3, people are going to talk. Social media has just given us the tools to make it easier to do.
I was fortunate to be at one of the first colleges to have Facebook when it first came out- that was 6 years ago. Think Facebook is going away? It continues to grow.
Misconception #5: “I don’t need a professional to do social media for me”
This is the only point where I think there’s a little leeway to be given. Noff says that companies shouldn’t just get a college student to do their work when it comes to social media. While I agree that this person needs to understand exactly what they are doing and needs to have prior experience, that doesn’t mean there aren’t college students or college-age young adults who do know how to do so effectively. In fact, social media has become one of the great democratizers of the communications world. Knowledge is readily being passed on at speeds unheard of just a few short years ago. Do I think you should hire any kid who says they know Facebook? No. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t kids out there who have experience already working with brands.
That being said, and a point that Noff also makes, the end goal should be to get the client to be able to handle the work for themselves after a training period. But for an organization that’s only familiar with the old media way of doing things, I wouldn’t recommend taking it on itself until at least talking with a social media practitioner.
Overall, the most important thing a brand can do is educate itself. Would you launch into a new realm of product before learning more about what’s out there? No, of course not. That feeling should also apply towards social media.
What do you see as the biggest misconceptions out there?