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On the Use and Misuse of Social Media

It often strikes me how few times vendor decision makers actually talk to the people who use their products. I don’t mean talk to the people who buy them, but talk to the people who actually have to fire the things up and use them to get a job done.

A recent piece in the Guardian covers a 15-year-old intern who provided a scathing report to Morgan Stanley on what products his friends actually use. In the report – and I doubt this is a surprise – his group did not read newspapers, finding them a waste of time and, and – this was a surprise – they didn’t use Twitter either, finding it a waste of money (because it uses up texting credits).

Another thing that clearly wasn’t a surprise is that they didn’t pay for music because they could get it for free.

This stuff seemed surprising to many and the coverage of this report from an intern has been hot and heavy. But couldn’t you have found out the same thing if you’d simply asked a question on Facebook, which is frequented by 15-year-old kids?

It seems that even in trying to determine how kids use media, the method used wasn’t a new method but the old traditional one of writing a report. One that, in this case, was backed by a few conversations with friends and yet got the visibility of legitimate study.

Let’s talk about using and misusing social media.

The Social Media Opportunity

Social Media like Facebook and Twitter allow you to access millions of existing and potential customers. You can even segment them into groups surrounding a particular demographic. Unlike traditional studies, either online or paper-based, you can sample them regularly, test ideas, and possibly form better solutions.

Done right, the proper use of these tools could go a long way toward building products that not only better targeted their focused demographic but came to market with a line of customers who could hardly wait to buy it. And even after the purchase there’s the potential for them to become product advocates who defend the product against competitive offerings and talk their friends into purchasing it.

But, to make this work, you have to understand that Social Media is just that – at the core it is “Social,” it isn’t a funnel that you can use to fill folks’ brains up with ads and promotions. Nor is it a way to simply pound an audience into the ground with the company line.

Using Social Media

Think of social media as a proxy for a neighborhood party, class reunion, or other social gathering. You wouldn’t go to one of these things (at least I hope you wouldn’t) with the idea of pitching products to everyone you meet.

Granted we probably all know people who do that and have learned to run for cover if the words “life insurance” or Amway are mentioned in a social setting. But in general the goal is to mingle, share thoughts, and have a good time.

This last is important because you can actually do an ad at a party if the ad is funny and entertaining. But what works is the “funny and entertaining” thing, not the desire to get some poor sap to separate from their money.

That means the achievable goal is not pushing products successfully, at least not at first, but on building and maintaining a trusted relationship. Once trust is established, as long as you don’t breach that trust, the medium can be used to move products but only if you use it strategically and don’t over sell.

Page 2: Voice of the Customer Power