Does Social Media Need Defending? / by Dan Weingrod

The idea that social media needs defending is indefensible


@kuriouskatrina, (aka Kate Anderson), forwarded me an article from entitled “In Defense of Social Media” by B.L. Ochman, but even before I started reading I thought what’s to defend?

Turns out that this article was a reaction to previous articles by Matt Creamer and Rance Crain,(Editors at Large and In Chief of AdAge respectively), about how social media popularity doesn’t lead to real influence or sales and how “advertisers don’t even know” what the purpose of social media is. All of which brings me back to my original question: Why does social media need to be defended?

Whenever I see articles complaining that popularity on Facebook or Twitter doesn’t lead to sales or change behavior I realize that they are just re-hashing a common misperception: Blaming the media itself for the problem instead of understanding its DNA and managing our own expectations. Social media platforms have large membership and awareness, but are built around the idea of creation of small, intimate communications networks. The average Facebook user has 130 friends and for “the vast majority of users 20% of their friends account for 70%of all interactions”. The average Twitter user has 27 followers and 80% of users have tweeted less than ten times. By any measure these statistics are not that come to mind when considering the mass media networks that most advertisers are used to. Instead, they indicate a large, widespread network of social tribes, villages or cantons that share the same platform, but rarely intermingle.

The problem is that when Creamer looks at Justin Beiber’s 6.4 million followers he is assuming that this is a social media equivalent of a 1970’s network television channel. When Crane complains that “advertisers don’t even know” what the purpose of social media is he is channeling those advertisers who harken back to the days that reach was easily purchased and the media was far less fragmented. You could fault social media boosters for claiming that social media may deliver more. You could even begin to hope that a network numbering over 600 million users should work like mass media and be able to change behavior based on popularity, but this goes against the nature of where social media is today. It is true that an occasional viral video tidal wave or a revolution in the third world demonstrate the potential for social media’s mass effectiveness. But as long as advertisers continue to look at social media through the lens of mass popularity they won’t really be able to harness its greatest strength of direct engagement among a unique group of brand supporters. This is the true DNA and potential that social media holds and which needs no defending.

What do you think?