Editor’s Note: Most articles about using social networking websites are enthusiastically positive. Today I thought it would be great to examine both sides of the coin, with two articles with opposing viewpoints. One article points out the positive advantages of social media. The other article, below, is from John L. Mariotti, whose position on social media is, well, not so positive. And I think John’s viewpoint represents the view of the vast majority of businesspeople today — they aren’t ready to drink the Kool-aid on social media sites just yet (maybe never). — Anita Campbell, Editor
By John Mariotti
In spite of the fact that I have always been an early adopter of new technology — or communications-based tools, social media turns me off. When I think about why, at least 10 reasons come to mind.
I have signed myself onto a couple in their early stages — at the urging of friends — and that’s when I realized why I wouldn’t have anything more to do with them, at least until they get much further down their evolutionary trip and improve measurably. Here’s why:
1. Social Media/Networking is an invitation to at best, uncontrolled and permanent over-exposure, and at worst, identity theft or misuse.
2. All of us are drowning in a tidal wave of complexity already, and these social networking sites make this complexity worse by an order of magnitude.
3. Social networking is in the evolutionary stage, and as such, all of the sites that exist now will change, evolve become either more useful and secure or go away. The lessons are there in recent history: Compuserve, early versions of AOL, Prodigy and all the other now defunct or otherwise transitory Internet, email or proprietary Web systems
4. Just when a lot of people learn to use one of the social networking sites/systems, someone will come up with a newer, better, cooler or more fashionable one.
5. Security of social networking sites is as great a risk as passing business cards around in a busy bar. No matter how many times the site owner/operator promises your information will be protected, secure, etc., the lure of money will make them liars. Someone will buy the site for the contacts that come with it — period. Then they will sell those lists to as many people and companies as will pay for them, to do whatever they wish with them.
6. There are many other, more focused ways of networking and marketing instead of placing your identity, your information, photos, etc. in the public — very public — domain.
7. Real business people realize that this social networking trend is superficial. True relationships may originate in email or other similar venues, but must become personal and not electronic to be of meaningful value.
8. The hassle of meddling with your computer and the so-called “easy to use” interfaces of such social networking sites is far too great compared to the complexity it adds.
9. When I want to expand my network, I want to choose who will be involved and know that their involvement is willing and enthusiastic — not the result of an email and a few clicks of the mouse.
10. I am simply too busy to meddle with something that is at least largely populated with people who have nothing better to do with their time, or others who think is it somehow an easy way to really be connected to a lot of people.
Nothing good comes easy. If this were all it took, everyone in the world would be connected to everyone else in the world and it would all be such a wonderful place.
Perhaps in the near future someone will figure out Osama bin Laden’s email address and ask him and/or his cohorts to be our friends on Facebook or My Space, or some new, as yet unnamed network.
4 Better, Safer and More Personal Alternatives to Social Media
Face-to-face, person-to-person contact is always best, especially at the start, and there are so many ways and places to find that preferred “human network.”
This can be supplemented later by email contact and Web-based communications. Learn about a person by having them tell you, not reading it on some social network where everyone, and anyone can see it, misuse it, etc. There are literally dozens of ways to connect that are better than “Social Media” on the Web — here are 4:
- Contacts made through professional societies and their meetings. Consider having business cards just for these kinds of events. If your existing business card only has your company name and contact info, consider creating similar business cards that you can print yourself (templates here) that outline specific benefits that you offer to that particular audience.
- Networking through current and former colleagues, friends and neighbors. The people you know are like your very own “Sales Force.” So give them a little “tech sheet” on who you are and what you offer. Develop a Referral Guideline (Referral Guideline template) — this is a terrific piece of information that you can review with the people you network with. It will tell them who you are, what sets you apart, who your ideal client is and things these people might say that will trigger them to think of you.
- Join and participate in clubs. Network through clubs such as: Investment clubs, book clubs, sports fan groups, computer clubs, neighborhood organizations, Alumni and other college organizations, service and community organizations such as Rotary and your local Chambers.
- Conferences and round-tables that deal directly and indirectly with related topics to your work. Have something ready to hand out at these events. Perhaps a simple flyer or even a book or presentation (templates here) that you can create yourself.
And, when you are face to face, you’ll seldom find a 50-year old man representing himself as an 18-year old man — or woman or vice versa. The social fabric of a community and our country depends on these kinds of human connections.
The key is to be prepared both with your message, your involvement and with information about who you are and what you offer.
Other, More Profitable Mainstream Marketing Options
As I was putting this article together, Anita asked me what I would say to a Marketing Vice President who came to me and said that we needed a social media strategy such as using Twitter or Facebook. I’d say something like “You’ve completely lost it!” And then I’d start looking for a new VP of Marketing.
Here are other marketing options that are tangible and measurable, that I would want to see instead:
- Creative 3-dimensional direct mail. When you have a “finite” group of customers, meaning that you know who they are and there are fewer than 1000 companies or people, then direct mail is a terrific option. Segment your customers into smaller groups and then create a direct mail strategy that builds interest and relationship while communicating the specific benefits you offer.
- Create Selling Kits and tools that make it easier for sales people to communicate the benefits you offer. These might include customer quizzes or “tests” that help customers choose which options are best and help move the sales conversation along, or samples of actual products that customers and see, touch, taste or smell. If you have a product that lends itself to demonstrations, think about videos or interactive DVDs.
- Pre-Trade Show Program. By now, just about everyone is doing pre-trade show mailings to invite attendees to your exhibit. In what ways can you put a spin on that? Choose a theme for your exhibit early and then build interest, excitement and involvement with direct mail. Plan an event during or after each day at the show to give customers the opportunity to interact and learn in a less formal setting.
- Re-evaluate and optimize your Web site. The whole point of the Web is to constantly update and change content. I would want to see an analysis and benchmarking of our current Web use, traffic and ROI, and I would also like to see options for improvement. Update the copy to reflect current hot-buttons and keywords that customers will be searching for. Include an appropriate blog that builds manageable relationships
I recognize that the marketing landscape is changing. I love and embrace new technology — but for the sake of profitable business and not because it’s a shiny new toy. It’s easy to get caught up in complexity and we know that complexity increases costs and cuts profits.
So, you won’t see me adopting anything until I’m convinced that it is controlled, profitable and safe.
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About the Author: John L. Mariotti is President and CEO of The Enterprise Group — Time-shared Executive Advisors. He was President of Huffy Bicycles, Group President of Rubbermaid Office Products Group, and now serves as a Director on several corporate boards. Mariotti has written eight business books and a novel. He has been a conference keynote speaker, a radio talk-show host, and a multi-national columnist for IndustryWeek, Management Centre Europe, the American Management Association, Fortune Small Business, Tiempo de Mercadeo, and a contributor to Business — The Ultimate Resource and the Encyclopedia of Health Care Management. His electronic newsletter THE ENTERPRISE is published weekly. His Web site is www.mariotti.net.