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Three Troubling Trends in Social Media

As we all watch the mass adoption of social media increase, there are a few unsettling trends that I witness daily. I guess that these are to be expected with any upcoming industry, but this is a bit different. I guess that because the rise of social media happened in a very compressed timeframe and because it started with a much younger generation, most corporate executives are feeling a bit “out of the loop.” I work with executives regularly who whisper, “Can you just tell me in plain English what IS social media exactly?” They are truly feeling that they don’t know what they don’t know.

This is totally understandable and frankly, not uncommon. However, here are three trends that should be avoided: Millenial Power, Technoholism, and Global Guru-ization.

1. Millennial Power – Companies large and small are putting their social media efforts in the hands of low to mid level employees because they are young and familiar with how to use it. This is one of the worst trends right now. Just because someone has a lot of followers and tweets, doesn’t make them a Twitter expert. For example, I churn out about 1000 emails a week but that doesn’t make me an email marketing strategist. Doing the tasks and managing the tactics is not the most important part. Designing a successful strategy that accomplishes the goals of the organization is first and foremost. The higher level executives know and understand their company’s strategic plan and should work with experts that can translate that strategy to initiatives.

2. Technoholism – This is the act of falling in love with the technology involved without understanding the overall strategy first. It certainly relates to the trend above but it is another big mistake. As companies are trying to grasp how to integrate social media into their marketing mix, too often I see companies jump in and create a Facebook page or Twitter account without having any idea what they are trying to accomplish or how they are going to measure it. Remember, it might be free to create an account, but once it is launched, you have to maintain it… and that won’t be free at all! There are a lot of great tools but they are all designed to resonate with different audiences and achieve different results.

3. Global Guru-ization – Like any “hot” industry, people of all ages and backgrounds are flocking to social media. It is more important than ever for the “Buyer to beware!” There are some amazing companies and consultants out there, and they have ended up in this industry in a variety of ways. There are a ton of people that might be familiar with social media, but don’t have the time and expertise to understand and implement an advanced strategy. I recently was involved in a proposal where my three competitors were an ex-PR person who had never activated a social media plan, a 24 year old who spent two years blogging and traveling and a website design shop. This would seem laughable if it wasn’t true. To avoid this Guru-ization, here are three questions that can help sort the sheep from the goats.

Questions for any social media expert:

1. How did you end up in social media – We all have stories and they have to make sense. Listen for specific environments that would lend themselves to providing a deep understanding and experience in strategic planning and implementation.

2. Give me an example of a specific client and how your strategic recommendations help them achieve their desired outcome – Make sure that you listen for the actual metrics and how they related to the objectives of the program. For example, just having created a viral video that over 200,000 people clicked on, doesn’t really mean anything. What was the company trying to achieve? How did they connect with the right 200,000 people? What were the expectations or predictions before the activation? You know how you evaluate any other strategist…just apply the same principles here.

3. Explain the difference between personal and B2B or corporate social media marketing – This one is a little more esoteric, but it will tell you a lot. Social media in the personal world is an entirely different animal. Anyone that tries to convince you that it is the same doesn’t truly understand the medium. Being able to easily and succinctly describe how a business focused social media plan is unique is a critical quality in any consultant or expert. I believe that 2010 is the year that we will see amazing specialization in the B2B use of social media. It is developing and being refined at a blistering pace. Finding the right people to help your organization and using your time tested strategic processes will help guide your organization to productive and successful use of these wonderful communication tools.