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The nature of the internet economy has given myth new importance in the digital age. One need only look at the field of SEO to see just how prominent (and destructive) myth can be.

Social media has a lot in common with SEO and one area where that's especially true is in the number of social media myths that have become entrenched. From the belief that social media ROI can't be measured to the idea that your business can thrive if you get to the right influencers, social media myths run rampant today.

Myth: ROI can't be measured.

Reality: This is perhaps the biggest myth and it's absolute hogwash. Social media is measurable. For online businesses, tracking traffic and conversions from popular social networking destinations is no different than tracking traffic and conversions from, say, AdWords. For offline businesses, there's no good reason that the same methodologies that are frequently applied to measure the impact of 'branding' campaigns in other mediums can't be applied to social media. Given that there are companies measuring the impact social media has on their businesses, I feel comfortable stating that most of the people who continue to repeat that social media can't be measured are either lazy or have something to hide.

Myth: Social media is still immature.

Reality: Obviously there is still some disagreement about the formal definition of 'social media' but let's make this simple: online message board communities were popular in the late 90s, blogs have been on the scene since the turn of the millennium (you might recall that Blogger launched in 2000) and Friendster put today's style of social networking on the map back in 2003. So to call social media immature is a bit disingenuous. If you need further convincing, consider that your grandmother may be on Facebook.

Myth: Social media is about conversations.

Reality: It may sound cynical, but oftentimes social media degrades into a less formal exercise in corporate shilling; an extreme extension of the 'tell the customer whatever he wants to hear' mentality. One example is instructive for brands: when former Frontier Airlines customer Andrew Hyde complained about the airline's standby policy, Frontier's willingness to hold a "conversation" with him didn't matter because he wasn't being told what he wanted to hear. I personally admired that but from a social media standpoint, you can be sure that Frontier would have won a lot more praise from the social media community if it had apologized when it felt no apology was due, committed to using Twitter @JetBlue-style and paid lip service to Hyde. And I do mean paid.

Myth: For brands, authenticity is a must.

Reality: For brands, money is a must. Brands that are willing to open their wallets can easily influence consumer perception of them in the realm of social media. There are plenty of case studies demonstrating that social media denizens are easily bought off. From Twitter users who will tweet just about anything for a chance at a prize to mommy bloggers gladly write product reviews in exchange for free product, there's no doubt: the easiest way to play is to pay.

Myth: Social media is killing off [insert industry name here].

Reality: Social media has definitely made an impact on the media landscape. But blogs aren't killing newspapers (newspapers are doing a fine job of killing themselves thank you very much), television is far from dying, etc. etc. etc. The smartest players are taking social media for what it is: a new channel. Nothing more, nothing less. This isn't an either-or proposition: when used strategically, social media can augment multi-channel initiatives.

Myth: There are no social media experts.

Reality: Debating whether anyone deserves to be considered a social media 'expert' has become a waste of time; you could probably argue that in most industries today, things move so fast that nobody can truly lock in 'expert' status. The reality is that there are savvy individuals who have used social media to demonstrably benefit their businesses and the businesses of their employers. While their experiences and track records don't guarantee future results, they've earned more credibility than, say, someone who calls himself an 'expert' but doesn't have any real-world case studies to back up the title. So the real question is not "Are you an expert?"; it's "Have you walked the walk?"

Myth: Social media is 'cheap'.

Reality: So is television advertising, print advertising, direct mail, radio advertising, etc. With one catch: it's all relative. When it comes to social media, the true measure of 'cheap' isn't determined by how much it costs you to register on Twitter and tweet, for instance. The true measure of 'cheap' is how your investments (including of time and labor) relate to what you get in return. For some companies, social media may be extremely cheap. For others, it may be far too expensive.

Myth: It's all about influence.

Reality: Are there influential individuals who can collectively make or break your business? The good news: in some cases it appears that the answer may be 'yes'. The bad news: you probably have no way of knowing who they are. The whole concept of 'influence' has been reduced into an oversimplistic mechanical view of the social media world. The reality is that the serious 'science' of influence is far more nuanced and complex than many have tried to dumb it down to be and for companies, this means that looking for the right haystack is probably a better strategy than finding the needles within it.

Myth: Social media is the future.

Reality: Social media is the present. The future is unknown. If your company treats adoption of social media today as some form of future-proofing, chances are when the next big thing comes along, you'll look a lot like those companies who are still trying to figure out what the big deal about the internet is.

Myth: Social media is a passing fad.

Reality: There's a lot of noise but that doesn't mean that there isn't signal. Remember: a lot of businesses fail when they attempt certain things. In the world of SEO, for instance, I'd venture a guess that more than 50% of the companies that have implemented some sort of SEO initiative have failed. Does that mean that SEO is a passing fad? Of course not.

Patricio Robles

Published 27 July, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2391 more posts from this author

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Tom Cheesewright

"Myth: Social media is about conversations."

Not a myth: social media is explicitly about interaction. Conversation is as good an analogy as any for the back and forth of messages, media, and monitoring.

What is a myth is that those conversations have to be entirely positive and always go the customer's way. As you say, Frontier should be respected for holding the line, not bowing to what they saw as an unreasonable complaint, whatever the leverage the complainant tried to employ.

about 7 years ago

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The Barking Unicorn, Denver CO

First sensible thing from an online marketing maven I've read all week, and I deleted nearly 1000 items just yesterday.

Namaste'! ("I bow to you")

about 7 years ago

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eDDy

Hi,

I disagree about the conversations myth.

Tom commented it the way I wanted to, so I won't go further.

ROI can be measured. You're right.

But it's quite hard. The process of ROI measurement involves means and people (and time) that some companies just don't have (they don't want to spend the money to have them, they're too small...).

There are many steps to climb before having real ROI measurement.

I agree that people saying 'it can't be measured' are lazy ; or that these people just provide poorly featured solution.

But that 'reality' is not tat easy to reach.

Anyway, good article here, thanks.

about 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Tom,

For there to be a true conversation, there has to be two or more parties interacting as equals. What often takes place with social media is more akin to what sometimes takes place on a first date: one party is so afraid of saying something the other party won't like that he/she doesn't really say anything and simply pretends to agree with everything that's said. That's not a conversation.

eDDy,

Any company that has time to tweet, poke and otherwise social network should have the time to quantify its investment of time and money. After all, if you're going to pay an employee to manage your social media activities (or to spend a chunk of time each day/week/etc. doing so), having a program in place to gauge what you're getting out of it is a no-brainer since without one, there's no reason to invest in the first place.

about 7 years ago

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Jessica

Hmm interesting article, although I'm not sure I completely agree with all points. For example,

Myth: Social media is about conversations.

I definitely believe social media is still about conversations, while some companies may miss the mark, conversation is stil the underlying reason behind social media. Which is also why social media requires using a bit of etiquette. Here's a blog post about social media etiquette for anyone interested in checking it out - http://www.libertyinteractivemarketing.com/blog/social-media-issues/

about 7 years ago

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Ehsan Khodarahmi

A very good article indeed! Many disagreed over the Myth: Social media is about conversations. I reckon it is right in a way - depends what we mean by conversation and who lead the conversation. SM is about real (proper), transparent and honest conversations; not otherwise.

This article gives the heads up for building a good SM strategy; all the ingredients are there to be taken advantage of. SM is not as easy as some may think as you know it all.  

about 7 years ago

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Liam | EverythingZing.com

Myth: Social media is the future.
Myth: Social media is a passing fad.

So it's not the future and nor is it a passing fad?  I think businesses would be unwise to gamble on Social Media being a passing fad.  If it's not, they'll get left behind.  If it is, they've not really lost anything.

about 7 years ago

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David Stevens

" I personally admired that but from a social media standpoint, you can be sure that Frontier would have won a lot more praise from the social media community if it had apologized when it felt no apology was due, committed to using Twitter @JetBlue-style and paid lip service to Hyde. And I do mean paid."

I think that would an extremely dangerous precedent.

It would mean that any Tom, Dick or Hyde with ruffled feathers and a Twitter account can get attention - whether that attention was merited or not.

It might mean that cases of genuine merit ("United Breaks Guitars"), be lost in that mass of ruffled feathers.

about 7 years ago

Jonathan Moody

Jonathan Moody, Freelance at Language4Communications

Social media conversations don't necessarily involve the brand. There are potential customers talking with present customers who based their decisions on conversations with former customers or competitor customers. You can throw into the mix more formal bylined reviews, comments from employees or people who do not identify themselves as any of the above.

Agreed, the largely mythical "influencers" can be difficult to find and yes, if you find them they may need to be bought. I'd rather book a hotel room based 8 reasonably favourable balanced reviews and 2 negatives than rely on one "influencer". The same goes for a car - a quick trawl of leading blogs or dedicated forums will give the usual positive-negative mix but if you start seeing the same problem (say, sticky brakes), cropping up again and again, then you should probably steer well clear of it.  I'd rather rely on that than on a blogger who was given the car for three months and defintely more than on a journalist who on all expenses trip to Cannes to test drive the car.....

This all comes back to a point frequently made in these blogs - you need to make sure your product/service is up to scratch. Tapping into social media can help you know where you're acheiving this and where you're falling down. Get that right and hopefully you will need to spend less time responding to complaints.....

about 7 years ago

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eDDy

Patricio,

sure a company that has time can measure.

I was referring companies that want to interact into social media, but can't  deploy everything in a first step. Meaning, they could play with social media, but they can't spend more time about monitoring, tracking...

I just meant : it's not that easy to measure.

regards

eDDy

about 7 years ago

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jim

excellent article on the realities of social media. Of course everyone has their own views on what are myths and what are the realities.

However, I've been saying for a long time that social media is only another channel. And I'm not even sure I'm that savvy for saying it.

about 7 years ago

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Israel Mirsky

I'm really not clear on the guess that "over 50%" of companies that have implemented an SEO strategy have "failed". At what? the SEO strategy (I assume)? Completely? I know it's peripheral, but the assertion seems strange. Are you suggesting that companies that attempt to improve their SEO tend to fail to do so? or that ROI isn't acceptable? And if so, by whose standards? 

Also, on the authenticity vs. money question - you're dealing with two different parts of the conversation here. One is the overall visibility raise, the other has a heck of a lot more to do with the PR/online customer service end of things. they are NOT mutually exclusive, as you appear to imply. Raising your visibility with prizes and free stuff is all well and good so long as full disclosure is in effect, but if you allow those users who are unhappy enough with your services and have a decent case against you to spread their unhappiness across "social media" you're just asking for another "united breaks guitars" moment. Handing out free stuff to bloggers doesn't help you there. 

about 7 years ago

Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles, Tech Reporter at Econsultancy

Israel,

I'm suggesting that if you took all the companies that have tried to do something with SEO, you'd probably find that most of them were unsatisfied with the results, weren't sure about what it did for them, dropped it prematurely, etc. As mentioned, it's a guess based on my personal observations.

When it comes to authenticity and money, we'll have to agree to disagree. It all comes down to ROI and whether you're talking about pure visibility or customer service, from what I see it's the companies that spend freely who get rewarded most of the time.

about 7 years ago

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Lucia Freitas

Great article. I agree and disagree with the conversation myth. Maybe because there are many instances (discussion lists, for instance) where companies are not involved nor invited - where consumer decisions are often made.

about 7 years ago

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AceFlex

Well, I agree it's hard to measure the total ROI. However, some techniques can be automated to facilitate the process and get some valuable reports for decision making. Of course, over the time - more criterias and mechanisms will have to be taken into account to analyze the results, but it's better off anyway. The social media is evolving and new challenges will surely appear.

about 7 years ago

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