Convince and Convert, Digital Marketing, Social Business, Social Media Measurement, Social Media Strategy, Integrated Marketing and Media, Social Media Marketing, Social Media ROI, Social Media Staffing and Operations

The 5 Dangerous Realities of Social Media for Business

(summary of my keynote at Get Social PRSSA)

The Crossroads: Social or Media?

As social networking has soared to become the largest voluntary behavior this side of teeth brushing, the money guys have shown up on the scene – right on cue. By all accounts, social media is a gold rush, with companies and consultants of all sizes and descriptions jockeying for a piece of a pie estimated to be $1.6 billion in the U.S. alone.

So we’re faced with a dilemma: do we want to focus on the social, or focus on the media? By my reckoning, from a business perspective we’re tilting toward the latter.

Thus, I’ve identified the 5 Dangerous Realities of Social Media for Business.

1. We’re Strategizing Wrong

Every time I hear the words “twitter strategy” I want to smack someone in the head. By definition, Twitter is not a strategy. It is a tactic, to be incorporated into a much broader social media strategy that in turn serves the overall company objectives.

We have to stop wrapping ourselves around the axle about the tools. They will change. They always do. How’s your Second Life Strategy working out?

The key is to develop sound, tools-agnostic programs that focus on how your company can “be” social, not how it should “do” social.

2. We’re Integrating Wrong

Social media is an ingredient, not an entree. Adding social media frosting to the cake you already own should be first objective. And let’s stop putting the cool cart before the uncool horse. Why are you worrying about your Facebook page if your email program is inadequate?

Even in the best case scenario, social media marketing alone isn’t going to create legions of customers out of thin air. Especially because the majority of people that interact with companies on the social Web are already familiar with those companies. Social participation is almost entirely opt-in. Thus, you are mostly preaching to the choir. That doesn’t invalidate social media marketing, it just positions it largely as a loyalty, retention, and lead nurturing vehicle, rather than as a pile of magic beans.

Social media is the great tiebreaker in the sport of modern business.

3. We’re Executing Wrong

The difference between helping and selling is just two letters, but they are incredibly important letters. Recognize that you earn the right to promote in social media by being helpful first.

This necessitates that companies focus less on crafting cheeky and concise outbound bon mots, and focus more on responding to customers and prospects with speed and authenticity. Answer the social telephone first, and then worry about making cold calls.

There’s plenty of business out there on the social Web for companies to capitalize upon. But it doesn’t often come from firing off your 140-character press release every four hours. Instead, business comes from having your antenna up, and finding opportunities to inform, delight, educate, and entertain.

The Opportunity Economy is very real, but you have to embrace the paradoxical notion that social media results are often accrued over the long haul, as you engage with prospects and current customers a few at a time.

4. We’re Staffing Wrong

To have enough antenna up to find and capitalize on all of the real-time opportunities presented by the social Web (see this month’s nominees for NOW Revolutionary of the month for amazing case studies), you need to get many more people in your company involved socially.

It’s not just about marketing. It’s about social business design, baking social elements into the daily life of all corners of your organization. (Great post by Olivier Blanchard on the difference between these approaches).

In most companies today, social is a job. Somebody(ies) is the social media person, centralizing and managing listening, responding, analyzing and other tasks. That will change as companies recognize social’s importance and the need to have more antenna up than one person or a few people can provide.

You know what else used to be a job? Typing. Watch Mad Men. There was a whole room of women that just typed. Every day. But now, typing is a skill. History will repeat. Social media needs to be a skill, not a job.

5. We’re Measuring Wrong

Social is incredibly measurable. We showcase more than 25 viable success metrics in my book The NOW Revolution. But the problem is we’re too often focused on numbers that simply aggregate. They don’t measure behavior, or any type of financial reward.

Why do we do this? Why do we pay attention to things like Facebook fans and Twitter followers when they don’t measure behavior? We need to focus on activating people in social, not just collecting them. That means a newfound emphasis on calls to action, integrated metrics, correlation studies, and smart attribution.

Work Harder

As I look at the 5 Dangerous Realities of Social Media for Business, I see a common thread. All of these contemporary (and hopefully temporary) shortcomings – Strategy, Integration, Execution, Staffing, Measurement all have the same root cause.

Quite simply, we’re just not working hard enough at social. In every respect, doing it well is substantially more involved than doing it poorly. And for now many companies are either unwilling to make that level of commitment, or uncertain as to its payback potential.

Nobody promised social media would be easy, just that it would be awesome.

Are you ready to put the effort into making it about social, not media?

Facebook Comments


  1. Anonymous says

    Excellent post, Jay. I just got back from a trip to California and after having lived over a year in France it was shocking to see the difference in adoption rates, yet still that social media has so much farther to go even in the U.S. for businesses. While renting a car we tweeted Hertz that immediately replied however ; I’d say there’s something there that’s working. A company we had rented through to supposedly get cheaper rates, however, never answered. Looks like next time we’re booking directly with Hertz ; not only do they answer on Twitter, their people behind the counter got us a car quickly to make up for the other company’s error..

  2. says

    This is a great post Jay, and thank you for spelling it out so elequently! It’s frustrating working with clients that do not “get it” – even after educating and training them. I’m forwarding this post to some of them now… :)

    Valerie DiCarlo

  3. says

    Awesome post Jay and best line for me was … “The key is to develop sound, tools-agnostic programs that focus on how your company can “be” social, not how it should “do” social.”

    Can I get an Amen! And, to answer your question, my Second Life strategy is doing poorly. :)

  4. Joe says

    Solid post Jay, it’s still amazing of you discussing the nuances, strategies, tactics helping not selling etc. and there is still a huge number of businesses that want “smile and dial” work lists.

    You’re working on your thesis and a lot of business owners are just discovering crayons, how do we get owners to look at marketing/sales differently without being fired for insubordination.?Again, great post really nailed the points.

  5. says

    Enjoyed the post Jay. Sometimes is easy to botch the terminology or become hyper-focused on the terminology in such a way that semantics become more important than results. We are naturally going to talk about the tools of the moment but your Second Life example is a good reminder not to get so tool-focused.

    In terms of #3, helping and not just selling, I’m still amazed at the number of companies that have a strong “social presence” but still can’t handle the basic idea of tracking their company name and responding accordingly. I’ve run into numerous companies with one-way communication and no desire to really connect with or help people that are actually using their name in social media circles. For them, it’s just another commercial or ad.

  6. says

    I love a great bottom-line post with a few zingers in there! Social vs. Media = unfortunately I’ve come across so many companies that look at social media as a cheaper form of advertising. They actually use advertising dollars. I’m always looking for those teaching moments…and posts like this. 😉

  7. says

    We need to focus more on the social as opposed to the media.
    We’re getting better at creating content and we’re pro’s at distributing it out, however we’re still missing the forest for the trees.

    COMMUNITY needs to take precedence. Are we actually building a community of people around brands? Are we connecting with people who actually care and turning them from casual fans to lifelong evangelists?

    I don’t think the problem is that we’re not working hard enough (which is probably true), but that we’re not working in the right direction. For the majority a shift in mindset has not happened yet.

  8. says

    Jay, I like this perspective. It highlights one of the unique challenges for social. If making it work is hard work, requiring dedicating time and resource, the ‘pilot’ approach to social will fail almost every time. The pilot has dedicated resources (a few) and attention on results (a lot), and risks failing under its own weight.

    Listening programs yield one-by-one opportunities that need to be rolled up to become significant in a business’s results. Attention is critical to jump on opportunities. Promotional programs can’t be run until an audience has been developed, although many try none-the-less. In both cases, the results seems to be companies that dismiss or significantly undervalue social, because their pilot, nearly doomed from the start, didn’t deliver on the market expectation of social media.

  9. says

    Well written post, Jay. I wouldn’t necessarily label these realities as ‘dangerous’ per se, only because for most companies, doing something is often better than doing nothing at all. As they stand up their social media presence, there are different objectives and lessons learned in doing it.

    I totally agree that these realities are spot on when it comes to the symbiotic needs of social media for a growing business. In fact, at Infusionsoft, we’re addressing the needs of our organization head-on and building more redundant processes around social. One of the things we have in our sails — the attitude and overall focus on customer service. That makes it easier for us to build their slightly more progressive developments to our social media program. And that makes a community manager just a little bit happier. 😉

    Keeping the ‘Now Revolution’ nearby on my desk as I look back at various examples and build up our program. Thanks again to you and Amber for putting it together. :-)


  10. says

    Sorry, by definition Twitter is neither a tactic nor a strategy – it’s a tool.

    And although you might not like the sound of it, having a “Twitter Strategy” is precisely the way someone should be referring to their goals and objectives in leveraging the Twitter platform. Yes, it can and should be part of a larger Social Media strategy, but chastising people who use the term in that way doesn’t move the ball forward.

    • says

      LOL. That’s one of my favorite comments ever. I know it probably seems sanctimonious and self-righteous. But I think we’re at an inflection point in this business. And just because I see a lot of things going off the rails does NOT mean me or my clients are doing it perfectly. Far from it.

      Anyone that tells you they know exactly how social works, or that they have it all figured out either by definition does NOT have it all figured out, and/or is a liar.

      I said I see a lot of problems. I didn’t say I have all the answers. I definitely think I have some of them, but everyone is a teacher in social media, and everyone is a student.

  11. says

    I agree with just about everything you wrote. That being said, it continues to be a struggle to get clients to commit the dollars needed to put the effort in place. It still amazes me how many companies launch Facebook pages and Twitter handles, yet they don’t do anything with them. Any advice on how to overcome these issues?

    PR at Sunrise (

    • says

      Thanks. I think it’s a matter of incremental progress and the metrics piece of it. If you can measure and model $$$ success, company support follows. Typically, we try to do it the other way around. Give me $$$ and I’ll prove it works. We need to try to prove it without $$$, and then get $$$ to take it to the next level.

  12. says

    Great insights as always…but my favorite tidbit is the part about the old “typing pool.” Back then, there were corollary industries like typing teachers as well. The “social media” teachers need to beware that the next generation isn’t going to want (or need) to be taught how to type (or how to use Facebook/Twitter/whateverelsecomes). It will all end up coming back to good solid marketing practices, using the “social” tools just like a keyboard is a tool.

    • says

      Such a great comment Rosemary. You are exactly right. Understanding and “teaching” the strategy, integration, staffing, and metrics parts are much more viable long-term than teaching the execution parts. Short-term it’s probably the opposite.

  13. says

    Jay, first of all, great piece and lot of terrific one liners, e.g. “social media is an ingredient, not an entree” and “the difference between helping and selling is two letters”! I agree with all that you put forward in this post except on two fronts. One I agree with Jeff Pester as it relates to a “Twitter Strategy”. Companies need to have strategies about how to harness Twitter and adhere to best practices. Secondly, I don’t know if companies are for the most part unwilling to make the investment in social media. They are very aware that their company is being discussed and mentioned in the social ecosystem. Instead, I think they are uncertain on the return and unsure as to how to execute. Most decision makers are over 40 and social media is not second nature to them. They need education and guidance on how to leverage social media to support their larger corporate goals.

  14. Mschmulen says

    Jay, you are really singing to the choir with this post, especially when you state that “social media is an ingredient and not an entree.” Our advice to SMB customers is to fully integrate their online marketing channels as much as possible. Rather than creating a Twitter or Facebook strategy in a silo, focus on providing great content to your existing customers and make sure that your message reaches them wherever they are (Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc.). Social media marketing is not a complete marketing strategy but rather an essential component to a complete marketing mix.

    While we should remember that Facebook and Twitter each represent just another channel, its important to recognize that these are the primary channels where word of mouth happens. They also unique because they enable us to more easily measure word of mouth and identify and reward our advocates. That is why it is so important to integrate social media with other marketing channels. It’s great to see other email marketing companies following suite by integrating Like and Tweet buttons to make it easier for email subscribers to spread the word.

  15. says

    Fantastic article Jay. My personal favorite is “Social media is an ingredient, not an entree”. This theory has bode me well in building a social media practice at our firm. By educating clients that SM is just part of a larger marketing/communications strategy, they are much more comfortable dedicating dollars towards those efforts.

  16. says

    Well said Jay. “Twitter is not a strategy” I say this in my book Branding Basics for Small Business: if you don’t understand your brand promise, your value and who your customer is, then how do you know how to present yourself through any channel, including social media? You have to articulate your brand strategy first. Twitter is the conduit – but what content goes in it?

    I think the issue all stems from authenticity. I think many of the companies who make social work already have a social mindset built into their DNA, into their brand. So it’s an easy transition to be human, proactive and show you care about what customers are saying – no matter WHAT the medium. But get someone like Citibank or something and they try to jump into the social pool before really knowing how to swim and no one buys it (note: I have no idea if Citibank’s social media strategy is good or bad. I’m just saying that a company like Zappos can probably do better at creating a “social culture” than an old-school financial institution.

    I think that might be why so many of the success stories come from smaller, enthusiast brands that know their customers really well. Being “social” was already a way of life for the brand. Now they are just transferring that to the channel.

    Do you agree, Jay? Or is there a big company with a less “approachable” offline brand that you find is actually doing well with social media right now?

    • says

      I do agree Maria. Small companies have an easier time “being” social because they are already closer to the customer. Doesn’t preclude big companies from doing it, and more and more of them are embracing social at all levels of the organization. It’s just more battleship to turn.

  17. says

    Well, I’d love to wax poetic in this here comment box as I am wont to do, but I must say that I just agree too darned much with everything you say in this post.

    I must also say that it is these kinds of sentiments, presented in blog-type form, that make me think you are darned tootin awesome.

    Not the most intellectual comment ever, but it is the truth! :)

  18. says

    6th dangerous Social Media for business is Change the Culture. The majority of businesses are not grasping the reality that EVERYTHING in the organization must change to support the new Social Media.

  19. Jenny Tsai says

    Great thoughts. I think what we are nowadays is “relying on social media” too much!! When the social media is widely used, people will see its value less and less. And we will end up those mistakes you described.

  20. says

    Great post Jay – one of the more balanced summations of Social Media benefits that I’ve read. Particularly like your comment that Social Media needs to viewed as a skill, not a job. Too many people think that by simply having a presence they’ll magically start getting a bunch of new business as a result, and this simply isn’t the case. As you said, it takes time and hard work – and you need to be constantly monitoring so that you can be constantly innovating and improving..

  21. says

    You are exactly right. You said that “Social media is an ingredient, not an entree. Adding social media frosting to the cake you already own should be first objective.” A great post. Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic

  22. says

    Its good investing in Social media. Social Media platform is ideal for different uses and should therefore have a customized strategy. Due to the rapid rise in popularity and relevancy many online marketing companies now offer Social Media Marketing and strategy development services which are paramount to the success of Social Media as a viable marketing channel.
    And as you said we have to work hard to get recognized by social media strategy.

  23. says

    All great points. Think that the hardest challenge with social media is pulling it away from the sole focus of a brand manager and PRs. Success relies on incorporating it into the daily lives of customer service and sales people so they can impact the behaviour of customers – i.e. increasing loyalty, word-of-mouth recommendations and SALES.

    I as you want to smack people in the head when they say ‘its all about the conversation OR increase in buzz’.

  24. Crclark says

    The money guys were there from the start – that’s what social media has always been about – capitalizing on people’s desire to socialize – getting revenue from ads, selling data, whatever. For businesses, it’s figuring out the difference between engaging in person or on the phone and engaging online…and creating the infrastructure – whether it be big data analytics, centralizing it and/or letting everyone in the company engage – that works for them.

  25. Michael - Bridge Marketing says

    This is a great article Jay. As an educator in the field of social, I hear more often than not how “strategy” is not important – at least to the business owners I deal with. They don’t realize it’s more than just having a Twitter account and a FB page with their logo and address on it. It’s nice to see someone break it down in terms that ‘less informed’ can understand.

    You just gained a new follower – think it will pay your next month’s rent?? lmao (just jokes)

  26. says

    it’s always hard to make the switch from the old fashion way of marketing and turning to the social media marketing. We have learned that relationships are important to make the sale, but in social media relationship marketing has taken on a much more meaningful aspect of business – with a much larger payout.

  27. says

    Most efforts are lazy. People automate, then when that doesn’t work, they automate more and push harder (it’s “salesy” vs. helpful). And that’s the problem (in my humble opinion). If you want it to work for you, you have to put in the time to connect, listen and identify needs and be helpful at the point of need. Then and only then, will you start to make some progress.

  28. says

    Most efforts are lazy. People automate, then when that doesn’t work, they automate more and push harder (it’s “salesy” vs. helpful). And that’s the problem (in my humble opinion). If you want it to work for you, you have to put in the time to connect, listen and identify needs and be helpful at the point of need. Then and only then, will you start to make some progress.

  29. says

    It all boils down to knowing your business and its goals. What do you provide, what do you want to achieve and how can social media help with that. This is not a matter of needing to change you company makeup because congress passed a law. This is simple marketing and communications. If your target audience is using social media, then figure out an effective and appropriate way to engage them there. Favorite line “Social media needs to be a skill, not a job.” Great post!

  30. says

    I like this article, a lot of people think you just set up a twitter or facebook account and start screaming what you can offer…I think too few get the helping then selling concept.

    And to chime in I do agree that twitter or facebook for that matter are tools but its so complex you might have a strategy about how it will be used.

    Thanks for the great article,

  31. says

    Very nice analysis. It is a little disconcerting to observe that most businessmen have depended too much on the media because it is where the bulk of the people and the interactions are, but have also disregarded the real focus of their marketing, which is the consumer. I enjoyed reading this post. Thanks for the insights!

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