People have been talking about "the Oprah effect," the sudden increase in Twitter users spurred by Oprah Winfrey's very public first tweet:
HI TWITTERS . THANK YOU FOR A WARM WELCOME. FEELING REALLY 21st CENTURY.
(Someone I'm sure has told her since that using all caps means you're shouting. But hey, maybe she was shouting. Oprah likes to shout.)
Twitter traffic jumped 43 percent around her joining, and 131 percent in total for March, with 9.3 million unique visitors from the U.S. that month, according to ComScore and reported here by TechCrunch. This means two things: more mainstream media stories talking about social media, and the inevitable backlash. If you really want to get attention around a trend, you either have to be one of the first to declare it the next big thing, or one of the first to declare it pointless, overhyped or dead.
The latter phenomenon may explain the headline of a recent Harris Interactive poll, summarized here in BizReport:
Less than half of Americans use social media
Less than half? Doesn't that also mean "nearly half"? Especially when you see the numbers are 51 percent not using/49 percent using. Since when do we downplay something by saying 49 percent of the country is doing it? "Sure, 150 million people are involved, but 156 million people aren't, so maybe it's not such a big deal after all."
For people like me promoting the value of social media within companies, this can be a very frustrating effect. Sure, more people are aware of Twitter and Facebook now than a year ago, but also more people are forming their opinions based on these negative mentions and not diving in to sort out what's real.
In my last post I talked about the value of social media at our recent SAS Global Forum user conference. Our Twitter hashtag, #sgf09, drew more than 1,000 tweets and cost us literally nothing to set up and virtually nothing to promote. Was that a worthwhile effort? Absolutely. Do I think we should stop everything else we're doing and concentrate solely on social media? Absolutely not.
But why do we need to be absolute about it? Surely we can agree that a modern company needs to be responsive and try new things, while at the same time using new communication techniques to support our existing channels and campaigns.
So, what does this mean for enterprise social media practitioners? First, anticipate the backlash. Be ready to justify the business value and put social media in the proper perspective. Twitter, Facebook, blogs and YouTube are tools, not strategies in themselves.
If someone comes to you and says, "How can we use social media to reach our customers?" you have a lot to ask before you start answering. Who are the customers we're trying to reach, what message are we trying to convey and what channels are we using now to do it? Where are they now and how do they like to get information? What's keeping them up at night? What unique business value do we offer them? When we do reach them, what exactly do we want them to do? And more important than what we want to say to them, what are they saying about us?
Second, step back and hear how you sound to the skeptics. Yesterday I met with a group of product marketing pros here at SAS. I heard myself saying things like, "When you tweet on Twitter to your tweeple..." These people are used to talking about ROI and wins and SWOT analysis and suddenly I'm talking to them as though I myself were a cartoon bird.
Remember, there was a time when you didn't know what social media was. Think about what converted you to a believer. For me, it's been the process of actually sitting down and trying these new tools when I've had some time to concentrate on them and get to understand them. It doesn't happen in the blink of an eye. If you have a skeptic in your organization, find some time on his or her calendar to sit down and demonstrate how these tools work. Gather your facts. Present some ideas that support existing initiatives. Show how others in your industry are using them to provide real value. Make it real for them.
Social media may be a phenomenon, but they're not a fad. Our biggest challenge as social media professionals is helping our peers to understand that.
At least until the other half of the country catches up.