If the last week has taught me anything, it's that while social media has plenty of evangelists (hi!), there's also no shortage of people that think these tools are completely overrated and over-hyped. Naturally, we evangelists would beg to differ.
But the problem is, even those of us that use these tools are often hard-pressed to find good examples of companies that are really using social media effectively to reach their customers. I've blogged before about how I am 'tired' of talking about Dell's wonderful work in this space. Simply because I want to see other Fortune 500 companies follow Dell's lead and get active with social media as a way to reach their customers.
So to those that subscribe to the 'social media is just a fad/overrated/overhyped' idea, the fact that companies are struggling to show solid bottom-line results from their social media efforts is music to their ears. To the naysayers, this tells them that there's no 'real' benefits to be found. Which is why these tools are 'overrated' and 'overhyped' and that we blogging/social media evangelists need to 'calm down' and 'get over ourselves'.
But if Company A launches a social media strategy that does nothing to grow their business, does this mean that social media doesn't work, or that this company's social media strategy didn't work?
It's an important question to ask. Is it that social media doesn't have the potential to improve business that we evangelists think, or is it that many businesses aren't sure how to tap into that potential?
And it seems that more and more companies are betting that the potential is there. Dell's efforts speak for themselves, Lionel recently announced that the company was opening up many social sites such as Twitter, Plurk, Facebook, etc, to all its employees. Ford recently hired Scott Monty to be the company's first Director of Social Media, and he'll head up a 5-person team for the automaker. Disney is hiring a Social Media Manager. Pepsico was recently advertising an opening for a Director of Social Media.
So if Social Media is overrated and overhyped, as some claim, why are all these big companies putting money into this space? On the flipside, if social media IS working for companies, why can't they more effectively show the bottom-line results?
I think an important reason why is because social media, when utilized effectively, makes a company's existing business processes more effective. Much has been made of Dell's turnaround over the last couple of years. But even Dell's biggest social media advocates, such as Richard Binhammer, are the first to admit that while they 'think' that social media is helping their company grow, they don't really have hard numbers to point to that prove this. Is it coincidence that LinkedIn's surge in traffic seemed to coincide with the company hiring popular blogger Mario Sundar as its Community Evangelist, launching a company blog and adding more social elements to its interface? Maybe. Masi has enjoyed impressive sales growth in the past few years, despite a relatively modest advertising and marketing budget. But they do have a brand manager named Tim Jackson that's incredibly active in social media. Like Richard, Tim would likely say that he thinks that social media is greatly contributing to his company's growth, but he can't directly quantify the bottom-line impact.
But in each case, social media DID help these companies perform their existing business functions more effectively. Social media has helped Dell better communicate with its customers, and this improved communicate no doubt greatly contributed to the percentage of negative blog posts the company tracked falling from 49% to around 20% currently. LinkedIn launching a company blog helped the site better connect with its users and better educate them on how to use the site as a networking and connection tool. By connecting with current and potential customers via his blog and other social sites, Tim Jackson has greatly helped raise the online awareness for Masi.
Is it that social media's potential for businesses is overrated, or is it that many companies aren't realizing the potential that social media holds for growing their business? What do you think?