When It Comes To Social Media, Popular Doesn't Mean Useful
In 1927 or so the lore goes, Sophie Tucker recorded a song celebrating the differences between the USA and Paris of the time, entitled Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong (lyrics are here). Here's a few lines from it:
They say the French are naughty
They say the French are bad
They all declare that over there
The French are going mad.
They have a reputation of being very gay
I just got back from Paris, and I just want to say:
When they go parley-vee and parley-vou,
This for me, zat for you,
Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong.
When they go Ohh la la la la la la la
On the bully boulevard
Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong.
Be aware that analyzing song lyrics from that period can be hazardous to our mental health. That said, a major aspect of the tune is that when you have a lot of people doing or thinking the same way, that way "must be right" and worth emulating. If you believe in the wisdom of the masses, this may strike a positive note for you, but then again, it's not likely you've been challenged by having an original thought recently. Remember the Earth is Flat? Cigarette smoking is not harmful? Cocaine is a wonderful medicinal compound?
Social Media and 50 Million Frenchmen
So what does this have to do with social media? Every time has its beliefs only later to have those beliefs shattered, or at least challenged by more free thinking people who believe that even common sense (that which everybody knows) should be challenged.
It turns out that one of the major points made by those pushing social media effectiveness in terms of improving business health, whether it be for use in customer service, marketing, public relations, or other areas) is this.
If it doesn't work, how come so many companies are trying it?
Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it. It's really a last resort for social media experts and pundits who can't "put the data" on the table and the dollars in the data.
It sounds remarkably similar to the teenager who says:
...but everyone else is going to the party.
So What? Where's the Harm?
First, it's not that surprising that social media "experts" both think and act this way. They are heavy users of what is ultimately a mass medium that is dumbed down, as most mass media ends up being. There are lots of good people on Twitter, or other social media platforms, but the cream of the crop simply aren't spending their time there. They are writing books for real publishers, speaking, working, contributing to research that's real and peer reviewed, etc. That leaves a lot of very average people with average unoriginal ideas on social media, and that's not a bad thing. There's nothing wrong with average people, although I'm not sure we want to follow them to the ends of the flat earth. Now average people can express themselves in the marketplace too.
The problem is that while there is a huge amount of buzz, PR, marketing and noise about businesses using social media, there is still a huge gap in the literature about its effectiveness. Businesses are jumping in on faith and on the basis of the advice of those who are well marketed. The result? Businesses are investing million of dollars in money and resources to use social media because "everyone else is going to the party".
That may not be a big deal to a company like HP, or IBM, but it IS a big deal for companies with limited size and resources trying to survive in a tough economy. They cannot afford to go in the wrong direction under the misguided idea that because so many other companies have jumped in, it "must" work.
There's another element here which has to do with a strange paradox. We know that companies, no matter what kind of business, or how the promote themselves, must differentiate themselves in their marketplace. It's a basic business strategy issue that faces each and every business. What separates us from the competition and how do we let customers know.
The paradox exists because it's those same marketers that understand this who are some of the strongest proponents of "the necessity of businesses being on social media". One of their arguments is everyone else is there, so it must be good.
So, in effect, what's said is that businesses must do what all the other businesses are doing. That, of course, is absolute nonsense as a rationale. It's bad advice.
It's clear that the number of people doing something is not an indicator of how effective that activity is generally, or how effective that activity will be for any particular person or business. Yet we are swayed, and companies often prefer to take the path well travelled, and trodden to mush, even though they could cut their own differentiating path and be far more successful.