Social media has led business astray. For all its promised benefits including faster, more effective access to larger communities, it has forced many marketers down a path that leads to lower business revenue.
There, I said it. My name is Sam Fiorella, I’m a business owner and I have a problem.
My problem is that for businesses, quicker and greater access to larger numbers of people is a false profit, a placebo for broken marketing. Social media experts promised us gold in these social media hills, yet most businesses go home empty handed.
Eric Qualcom, author of Socialnomics, has become famous for his videos showcasing the growth of social media in our society. He makes bold statements such as: “If Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest country in the world.” and “Social networking has replaced pornography as the number one activity on the Internet.”
He and others suggest that because of the growing adoption of social media and the digital technologies, businesses who don’t embrace it will be out of business in the near future.
There’s no denying that consumers are embracing social networking in greater and greater numbers. And, you cannot deny that social media is a phenomenon that has fundamentally changed the way humans communicate, learn, and live. For individuals, social media has delivered on its promise of self-improvement through the democratization of information.
The more people we have access to, the greater the access to opinions, facts, and relationships. The more direct dialogues we have with others, the easier it is for us to ascertain truth from marketing or political spin.
The more options we have to connect with others around the globe, the more relationships we can foster and maintain. Overall social media has delivered on its promises – for individuals.
However, for businesses, that Promised Land is still elusive. Businesses have the same access to large communities of engaged people that we as individuals have, so why do so many businesses struggle to profit from social media engagement and demonstrate an ROI on that activity?
There’s a plethora of “best practice” information shared online, at corporate conventions, and at marketing conferences that promise to teach us how to earn ROI from social media. Still, few confidently claim to have found it.
We have more access to consumer profiles, preferences, and conversations than ever before, yet we continue to struggle with C-Suite acceptance and budget allocation for social media marketing. Is it because we don’t know how to track or measure social media engagement? Possibly, but there’s a bigger issue.
Social Media Isn’t About Mass Communication
In our book, Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage, and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing, Danny Brown and I explore this social dichotomy. What we discovered was that the true power in social media engagement for businesses rests in the conversations between specific people, not the masses.
We’ve been trained to focus on the size of our online communities and the “power of many,” so much so that we’ve missed the true value of social media networking for businesses: The insights and power of one-to-one conversations.
We’ve discovered that, for businesses anyway, the real power of social media isn’t the mass conversation but the one-to-one conversations within it.
Dyads are a group of two; a dyadic relationship is the dynamic generated between two individuals interacting with each other. This is the nucleus of social conversations.
Within a large online community, you may have many people engaged in a group conversation, yet the net result of that mass-engagement is vastly different than that from the exchanges between two people with a defined relationship at a particular moment in time.
Group conversations serve to highlight issues, publicly debate commonly held beliefs, or make the larger community aware of trending topics. The net result is almost always “awareness.”
When two people within a defined relationship (such as co-workers, family members, etc.) speak to each other about a specific product (eg. smart phone, groceries, autos, etc.) and at a specific time in the consumer buying cycle (awareness, consideration, decision), the result is often behavioral change.
Broad awareness is often required as part of the business’s sales and marketing mix; however, any effect on gross revenue or profits is often anecdotal. We’ve been so trained to grow our networks, and activity within them such as the number of “Likes”, follows, shares, re-tweets, pins, etc., that we’ve failed to realize the power in smaller groups. We’ve seen the forest, but missed the trees.
Degrees of Trust
These powerful dyadic relationships exist within the larger online social community. They are accessible and available for smart businesses – powered with the appropriate social software – to capture, benchmark, and foster. Social media has taught us that people trust people more than brand advertising and paid spokespeople. Yet, not all people are created – or trusted – equally.
There’s a fundamental difference in the trust attributed to the collective voice of our social community than that given to individuals with whom we share personal experiences.
The collective voice of our community may agree that Geico has the best auto insurance program, but we often choose an auto insurance company based on the experiences of our parents and siblings.
The wisdom of crowds states that the Apple iPhone is the best mobile phone on the market, yet Samsung’s Android-based phones are selling like hotcakes. In fact, I still know people who buy/keep their Blackberrys solely because their friends have them and they like to talk on its BBM network.
The point is that individuals – and their relationships with each other – generate action. That’s what influences others to truly consider or purchase a product. These dyadic relationships have the power to deliver all that social media has promised to businesses. Yet we continue to chase larger and larger audiences, more and more voices.
As long as businesses chase larger volumes of people, viral videos, and social celebrities, it will continue to struggle to demonstrate measureable results from social media activity. Is it time to stop, identify, and listen to those dyads?
Sensei Debates: The Power of Two, Or Why Social Media Sucks for Business. Is there more value in the smaller conversations happening within the larger social conversation? Or is the collective voice still capable of driving value for business? Join the discussion in the comments below.
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego