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Social Media Is a Tool, It’s Not a Religion

The title of this post was a tweet that drew sharp response on twitter, so I thought I would expand on this thought (a good example of a use of twitter by the way.)

The entire tweet actually was . . . social media is a tool, it’s not a religion, there are no real rules and we are all experimenting every day.

As I mentioned, I received a ton of replies. Now, some mentioned that perhaps I was a tool, but the bulk of the responses leaned towards a frustration that I see from many small businesses trying to figure the whole social media thing out.

Too many social media evangelists want to portray tools like twitter and Facebook as some sort of new Utopian Society where rules and pure uses are established and must not be challenged. Look, I know that there are certainly “generally accepted” rules of behavior, but the same rules exist in every corner of human interaction.

Don’t be rude, don’t be boring, give to get.

The point is, for a business or marketer, these are just tools, tools to meet objectives. Don’t over think new media tools. Use them in smart ways, not necessarily the ways you see other using them. Approach new media options with an eye on how they can ultimately help you achieve your objectives and not on how you can become part of the now new thing that’s all the buzz.

You can push the bounds of new media as a marketing strategy without running counter to the ordained culture of a social network if you simply use common sense. Spam is spam whether it’s in email or auto posted to a social network, but getting creative about automating the process of posting content to all of the various outposts you have developed online is a smart way to explore new media use.

My approach to new media is this – explore, participate, converse authentically, but use as many tools as you can to make it as easy as possible to do so. That’s how you juggle the demands on your time with the need for ROI. ROI is an elusive thing with social media, but focus on the investment part first and the return part will show up.

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  • http://intrepid-llc.com Todd Schnick

    Another great post John. I wrote a blog entry the other day speaking to the point that social media should only be a PART of your marketing strategy, not your entire marketing strategy. I continue to be amazed at how my social media efforts are driving increased traffic to my blog, but I also continue to be pleased by results of more traditional tactics. Integration is key!

    http://intrepid-llc.com/2008/12/09/social-media-verses-traditional-marketing-daily-e-journal/

  • http://www.theMarketingCoachVa.com Tim Nagle

    That is good timing on the advice, John.

  • http://www.conversationalmediamarketing.com Paul Chaney

    I agree with your surmise John. However, I will say this in defense of social media — it has literally changed my life both personally and professionally. Starting with my foray into business blogging in 2004, I have found a home in the social mediasphere.

    Some of my dearest friends in the entire world (and some of them are from locations across the world) have come from participation in social media. Not only that, it’s opened doors that never would have been opened otherwise.

    I admit to having an almost religious fervor about it, only because of the profoundly positive effect it’s had on me. As such, I find it hard not to evangelize about the benefits. To me, it’s not merely a marketing strategy, tactic or set of tools. It’s a way of life.

  • John Jantsch

    @Paul – we’re not at odds here at all – remember it’s about objectitves – that’s all I’m saying – your approach is meeting your objectives, but it doesn’t have to be the approach for all. Make your approach work and don’t worry so much about what others are doing.

    I too agree strongly with the awesome power of these tools but I am careful not to scare someone coming in fresh with my giddyness over the nerdy things I can do.

    That’s all and Paul, since I’ve known you for a long time, I would categorize you as an authentic evangelist, one who leads by example as opposed to merely words. That makes a big difference for the flock.

  • http://refocusing.wordpress.com Jeremy Lattimore

    Thanks for the post John. I think that it raises an interesting thought. Companies need to remember that social networks can be utilized for more than chatting. They can be tools to promote buzz and business efficiencies.

    Jeremy
    http://refocusing.wordpress.com

  • http://realsummerlin.com Chris Shouse

    I agree with John on one point people new to social media can be scared off easily. There are still people (a lot) that have never even heard of Twitter and when you talk about it to them they look at you like you are some sort of fanatic.
    Like Paul I have met so many people that have become almost like family. When you finally meet them face to face there is none of the shyness that comes from meeting new people. Paul is an example of this I felt like I already knew him when we finally met.
    Now I can sign up for a conference and know people already even if we have never met face to face.

  • http://www.lotusjump.com SEO Software

    You’re right on John. Even the Internet itselfwas/is just a new tool (yes, it changed things in a big way for a lot of people — like Paul commented re: social media), but at the end of the day, it’s just a new tool to accomplish the same basic goals in business and in life. The better we adapt and leverage new tools that come our way, the more successful we will be.

  • http://ecotourismleavingfootprints.blogspot.com/ Guillaume Foutry

    It is so good to have some common sense! Social media are hype but at some point that will calm down. I mean people will increasingly use them but as they will be more incorporated in everyday life they would be common tools and not things people are dreaming about.

  • http://www.webvixn.com Cyndi Smith

    YAY! I’m so glad to read this. Excellent topic. I’ve been dealing with clients who are SO gung-ho over Social Media that they’re forgetting the foundations of true online marketing. Remember the days when meta tags and keywords were the be-all end-all? Well folks who know just enough to be dangerous are trying to jump into SMM with both feet and conquer the world. To me, it seems like digging the Panama Canal with a spoon.

    I respect the power of SMM, but (as Todd Schnick pointed out in the first response) it should be a small part of a big plan! Integrate SMM into your other marketing channels, and don’t forget a little OLD SCHOOL R.O.I. I like to go a bit beyond ROI and think about Return on Time, because it’s easy to get caught in the SMM vortex. There should be a balance of efforts. And God forbid you go overboard and start to look like a spammer.

    “Welcome to the Overflowing Goblet of Social Media Marketing – Think before you Drink!”

    http://blog.webvixn.com/2008/10/12/welcome-to-the-overflowing-goblet-of-social-media-marketing-think-before-you-drink/

  • http://www.salesdujour.com Gary S. Hart

    This is an excellent article that touches the tip of the iceberg of the biggest misconception marketing, sales, and customer, service people face. Media types, sound bytes, and gimmicks are not marketing by themselves and are merely “tools.”

    Social media is another venue for networking and networking is conversation. And, conversation is the biggest component missing from today’s business environment. Too many pitches at targets that lack personal, interactive engagement – spam!

    If I were asked to teach marketing, sales, and customer service people only one thing it would be, ask questions that lead you to learning about the person to whom you are speaking with.

    Happy Holidays!

  • http://ungravenimage.com Judy Rey Wasserman

    I have been active on Twitter for a tad over two weeks. In that time I have become friends with some people, “met” and enjoyed access to others and basically found company as I work alone (so far) in my studio-office.

    I follow you. I look for your posts, which I find interesting. As an artist with a new transformational e book, I do have something to market. However, first and foremost for me social media is about relationships and communication.

    It is easy to spot people who are marketing and only around to make a buck. Often these people do not have products or services that they truly believe will make a real difference in people’s lives, or ones that are fairly priced.

    Judy Rey Wasserman
    On Twitter: judyrey

  • Ken Stockman

    To me, this seems like the same frenzied walk in the woods marketers were taking when they realized they had to have presence on the Web itself. I recall all the debates over Web 1.0 and how to use the “tools” that were being back in the late 80′s early 90′s, namely Flash, JavaScript, etc. It would be interesting to go back and research the media from the pre-bust years to see if there are indeed these parallels in the community dialog.

  • http://www.morecaffeineplease.com Greg Digneo

    John,

    Thanks for the great post. I’m fairly new to social media, but I’ve learned quickly that you are 100% correct. It is a tool. Too often, I run into business owners who talk about blogging and Twitter like they are miracles. They expect that after three days of social media marketing there will be a huge influx of new business – and are disappointed when it doesn’t happen. Just like traditional marketing, it takes practice, persistence, and authenticity!
    Happy Holidays!

  • http://experiencecurve.com Karl Long

    To true John, the tools are a means to an end. I think recently way too much emphasis has been put on this term “influence”, I think we need to focus on “action” a lot more, it’s more measurable. A lot of these super star twitterers are just acting like pyramid schemes peddling percieved influence due to their number of followers. In the end a network of people that want to be popular are only going to influence other people with the same goal. Businesses need to be very careful when they look for advice in this area, there is a lot of snake oil getting peddled right now.

  • http://www.leadsexplorer.com LEADSExplorer

    Social media is a tool for Marketers, but it is also a tool for your customers that can be used against your products or company.

    10 Years ago a company could ignore complaints or have not-so-good customer service as the customer couldn’t address the mass media.

    Today customers can speak out and distribute their negative experience on social networks.
    All the marketing efforts can be whiped out with one complaint that gets traction.
    Or people can favor the product of your competitor and a word of mouth can get going achieving for your competitor what all your marketing efforts can never realize.

    Business just got more difficult, especially as you cannot control social media and the spreading of information (positive or negative).

  • John Jantsch

    @Leads – so true, I think we forget that part. It’s also a great place to reach beyond marketing – finding employees by way of their social media presence is a very hot strategy these days.

  • http://copiesandink.com Bill Alpert

    Guess I don’t get this whole social media thing. Why is it any different than going to a chamber of commerce meeting, only to get business cards pushed in your face by other people looking for business…

  • http://www.conversationalmediamarketing.com Paul Chaney

    @Bill – You struck two chords with your comment. One is that many perceive social media as nothing more than a place where you meet people and they push their virtual business cards in your face. It’s not that. Social media, in terms of its efficacy as a marketing tool (and it is so much more than that), is in building relationships and those take time.

    It’s conversational or relational marketing. The notion of meeting someone and immediately (as I see happening on Twitter now) pitching your product or service, flies in the fact of well-established social media etiquette.

    The second chord you struck is one of a “minor key.” My fear is that what you suggest is what social media will become if we’re not careful. Again, when people start following me on Twitter or friending me in Facebook and immediately start pitching me, I know they don’t get it. Traditional marketing techniques don’t bode well in this new media world. They just don’t. The Matt Barack debacle the other day is a perfect example.

    As Chris Brogan put it so pointedly in today’s webinar on Twitter for business, when I’m reaching my hand out to shake yours is not the time to stick you tongue down my throat!

    Conversational media is about turning strangers into friends and friends into customers and customers into evangelists. That takes time and patience.

  • http://copiesandink.com Bill Alpert

    Paul: I missed the webinar, and admittedly my experiences in my area have been to some extent superficial. But still, I’ll show my prejudice here: successful business people are just too busy to be messing around with this stuff.

    You and I can have a meaningful conversation online about this topic, and that could lead to something good for business. But that’s a longshot. Personally I’ve not seen much on Facebook or Plaxo that doesn’t fit into the category I’d call “fishing.” But please, prove me wrong. Where can I parlay my online conversational skills to help me find clients for my commerical printing business?

  • http://www.conversationalmediamarketing.com Paul Chaney

    @Bill – There is much to be considered here. First, conversational media doesn’t begin with talking. It begins, rather, with listening. These tools are not merely the purview of the marketer, but the consumer as well, and they are using them to talk about us, our businesses, products and services, potentially at least. And we need to be listening to what they have to say.

    Why is that important? Because what they have to say has weight. Word of mouth is trusted more now than ever and the internet, particularly the social web, has put WOM on steriods.

    So, what are we listening for? Three things: Strength of voice – how much is being said; tone of voice – whether that conversation is positive or negative; and trends over time.

    What if, for instance, a customer of yours is out there on Judy’s Book, Yelp or some other such site raving about the great service they received. Wouldn’t you want to know that and potentially reward that customer? On the other hand, what if they are ranting about the poor products or service? Again, is that not something you’d want to know?

    That’s as much as part of what social media affords as any jibber-jabber of ours.

    My strategy, then, is this: Listen, respond, engage and measure.

    While we don’t have time here to fully flesh this out, let me mention someone, a small businessperson, who lives this out each and every day. His name is JD Iles, and he runs a custom sign shop in Lincoln, NH. His site, http://www.signsneversleep.com, a blog, is probably his biggest, single-most effective (and least expensive) marketing tactic.

    John can testify, I’m sure, to how social media in the form of a blog has worked to build JD’s business.

    Much more to be said…

  • http://solopracticeuniversity.com/faculty Susan Cartier Liebel

    One statement I heard a while back is we are describing this all wrong. It is not ‘social media’…it is digital media which has the ability to generate socialization. I’m not mincing words. I’m simply showing that be reframing the media it now allows for other uses and I benefit from those uses.

    Some see Twitter as strictly conversation exchanges. However, my follows include numerous newspapers which do not engage in ‘socializing.’

    Once we remember it is another media which provides for socializing we won’t be so hard core and it allows us to stay creative with how we use it.

  • http://www.business901.com/blog1/ Joe Dager

    What a blog post for “Twitter Day” on Duct Tape Marketing. Did you save this for today? Now the other day I was doing month end books with my tweetdeck going on the other monitor! Talk about being socially challenged.

    P.S. Chris Brogan in on an airplane, twitter traffic is substantially less tonight.

  • http://www.mindfrenzy.com Jared O’Toole

    “Don’t be rude, don’t be boring, give to get.”

    Enough said – follow that but everything else goes!

  • http://copiesandink.com William Alpert

    This is all so subjective. What’s the metric for an “effective” business oriented blog? One can put heart and soul into these daily posts, while the rest of the world reacts with a resounding yawn.

    The same corned beef sandwich that gets 5 stars on Yelp, gets 0 from the next guy. Look at comments in the App Store in ITunes. It’s free reign on the internet. Anyone can say anything. To the general reader: YAWN, grain of salt looking at all of this.

    I honestly think we’re way too caught up in this latest tool. More hype than substance. When it comes down to it, a lot of e-media just won’t carry any weight.

  • John Jantsch

    @William – the part that is not subjective really is that while people are not firing up their computers to sit down and read a blog, the search engines are – so if you are writing content that answers questions and provides solutions, people searching for those answers will find your blog via search – that part is not a fad.

  • John Jantsch

    @Susan – I wrote a post about a year ago stating that I’ve stopped using the B word with small business owners, referring to the word blog – instead I talk about all the benefits, like winning local search, getting in the press, etc. then I tell them there is a tool for this and they listen.

  • John Jantsch

    @Paul – your strategy is all people need to understand about marketing really, thanks for the great input and discussion here. – “My strategy, then, is this: Listen, respond, engage and measure.”

  • http://www.mcgrawmarketing.com patmcgraw

    Excellent post – the technology delivers the information, it does not make it good, bad, appropriate, inappropriate. We need to focus on the value and appropriateness of the information being exchanged much more than the technology that takes it from Point A to Point B.

  • http://www.makemymovieonline.com Ted Chandler

    Great post. This is really good advice coming my way at a time where I am trying to figure out how twitter and other social media tools can help promote my company and the services we provide. I have read several books lately and subscribed to many blogs such as yours and have learned a lot. I just started my blog the other day, created a twitter account, and re-evaluated the way I use facebook. I am completely convinced of the value and power of using social media (especially since my profession is creating video content for clients and original content), but have to admit all the advice i have gotten, the time it takes to implement, convincing my co-workers it will work, and learning about all the tools has been somewhat overwhelming. Excellent post coming at a crucial time for me. Thanks,

    Ted Chandler

  • http://ppcsoft.com/blog/social-media.asp Atle Iversen

    “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”

    After years of using the phone, people suddenly got access to e-mail, and it became the new hammer.

    The new social media tools are alternatives to e-mail.

    Many people experience e-mail overload, but that is
    often because e-mail is used as the new hammer.

    EVERYTHING is sent by e-mail, when you could have used IM, Twitter, a blog, a wiki or a discussion forum instead.

    And for the time being, many people use Twitter as their new hammer. It is useful for SOME scenarios, but NOT for all !

  • http://www.originalquill.com/blog/ Jared Young

    “Don’t be rude, don’t be boring, give to get.” John, it amazes me every day how many people forget those simple words. Whether it be in a brick and mortar shop or online, business talk or just casual conversations. Those words so often seem lost on people. As a society have we really lost our sense of direction enough that we forget those simple tenants?

    Also, I completely agree that “it’s just a tool.” A great tool for some of us, sure, but a tool nonetheless. If we aren’t at least TRYING to use as many tools as we can, we are doing ourselves a disservice.

    Thanks for the great post.

  • http://www.thesenioragent.com Barry Lebow

    Actual Call, Lady Agent”I cannot find it and I have your flyer open on my screen? My Assistant, “that information is not on our flyer, just go to Google and search it.” Lady Agent, “what’s Google?” This would be no big deal if it was isolated. It has happened more than once. Have Realtors bragging that they don’t use email, their assistants do it for them. Was in touch with a top internet personality and he used the analogy, “like a meteor hitting the earth.” Loved it. So, in a pending article I am writing for Canada’s REM Magazine (www.remonline.com) I using the meteor as being represented by the recession and those who do not embrace today’s technology and marketing opportunities are the dinosaurs, ready to be wiped out on instant impact. Real estate has abundant dinosaurs. I am 62 soon, computerized in 1977 and am not a geek, the how does not interest me, only the results. My dad, a man who I never saw change a lightbulb is 87 and cannot live today with his email and internet. Those who say they are too old to learn always were.

    Great posting from this group.

    Barry

  • http://www.namecake.com Premium domains

    Very interesting post. I’m pretty new to this whole social media game, so i’m picking up some good tips from this ind other posts you’ve made. Thanks

  • http://prblog.typepad.com Kevin Dugan

    Amen John. When I tell people about Twitter I note that it will not clean your oven or cure disease. It is simply a helpful utility. And when I read about “rules” I also chuckle. Guidelines are helpful, but for someone to imply or impose rules? Good luck with that as we figure this stuff out.

  • http://astore.amazon.com/cheap-bass-guitars-20 bass

    I have met so many people that have become almost like family. When you finally meet them face to face there is none of the shyness that comes from meeting new people. Paul is an example of this I felt like I already knew him when we finally met.