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6 damaging myths about social media and the truth behind them


A version of this article was first run on our Firebrand blog last year.

Boston Consulting
tells us social media will be worth $4.2 trillion by 2016. A joint Capgemini-MIT Sloan study shows digitally mature businesses are 26% more profitable than less mature peers.

Yet executives and businesses are still missing in action.

Only 30 percent of CEOs are social (largely because they’ve signed up to LinkedIn and not because they’re using it)

Why with all this evidence of its value, is there such a gap?

I believe executives are anchored to damaging myths about social media that hold them back.

The eruption of social media seemed so fast and was so visibly associated with teen geekery that an inaccurate but influential narrative took hold. Here are some of the truths behind them.

Myth #1: Social Media is a fad

This is the most strongly held myth, and it’s wrong.

The professional business network LinkedIn was founded in 2002 and now has 260 million users from 200 countries.

When people think of Facebook, they think of the baby-faced college kid, Mark Zuckerberg. But Facebook is now over a decade old. As for CEO Mark Zuckerberg, that ‘kid’ is now a 30-year old billionaire leading 6000 employees of a listed company.

More than a billion people visit YouTube each month. Even relative newcomers like the microblog Twitter have been around since 2006. Twitter handles 500 million tweets and 1.6 billion search queries every day.

I could go on. Key social networks are well established and becoming increasingly sophisticated as more users come online and they learn to respond to their needs.

Truth: social media is here to stay.

Myth #2: Social media is about posting photos of what you ate for lunch

Take a quick look at Instagram and it’s no surprise that people think social media is about posting photos of what you ate for lunch. There’s no denying photos are integral to social media.

We are taking a lot of them, each day to the tune of:

– 400 million views on Snapchat

– 50 million on Instagram

– 350 million on Facebook

But I want to put it in context.

Imagine that you’ve had a four-hour meeting and break for lunch. Someone delivers a tray of sandwiches and you turn to a colleague and say ‘oh, chicken sandwiches. I love them’. This comment is totally within context, it’s appropriate and reveals something of your human self, vital for building relationships. But it is not what the four-hour meeting was about.

Photos in social media are, similarly, a record of a moment in time: I was here; this is what I saw that caught my attention. But they are not what social media is about.

Truth: social media captures human moments.

Myth #3: Social media is for code monkeys

Social media is not about tools but what they allow you to do – build global relationships.

Yes these platforms have to be built and yes people who know how to code build them. But you don’t need to know about that any more than you had to learn to build electronic circuits because you liked to watch TV.

Networks allow you to reach out to people from around the world who you do not yet know, but whom the algorithms built into social media networks will help you to find. That’s the only part that requires code. And you do not have to write it.

Truth: social media is about relationships.

Myth #4: Social media is for people under 25

8 new people come online a second. Are all these people 25 and under? Not even close.

On LinkedIn for example, which is for professionals, 2 new people join a second. On Twitter the fastest growing demographic in 2013 was adults aged 55-65, a jump of 70%; for Facebook – 55-65 year olds jumped 46% in the same timeframe; and Google+ was around 57%.

Truth: social media is for everyone.

Myth #5: Social Media is for Marketing

Many marketers are using social media, some poorly, some well, but social media is about a lot more than marketing. However, because marketers are creative and experimental, many recognised its potential early on and were the first to hop on board.

But many leaders continue to think about social media as a channel, specifically, for communications or sales. Its reach is far greater. What social media, like technology, delivers is an expectation that cannot necessarily be delivered under legacy business structures – immediacy. We expect to find what we want, where we are and act on it. That’s about socialising every area of the business.

Truth: social media is about immediacy, connectivity, and impacts the whole of business.

Myth #6: There’s no ROI on social media

There are more social media metrics than you can poke a stick at and with the rise of big data, we’ve never known more about customers and how they act. You can measure ROI on social media. However, it’s difficult to measure what counts the most, the value of a relationship.

A Forrester Research Research report shows how to build an effective social media scorecard considering metrics from four different perspectives:

  1. Financial: Has revenue or profit increased or costs decreased?

  2. Brand: Have consumer attitudes about the brand improved?

  3. Risk management: Is the organisation better prepared to respond to problems that affect reputation?

  4. Digital: Has the company enhanced its digital assets?

Having said this, a 2013 Business Insider reported that many brands were moving away from metrics that purported to measure social media ROI because they recognised that social media is not transactional and that indicators, for example, on financial returns, show secondary effects.

The focus has shifted to measures like reach, engagement, and sentiment.

Truth: ROI is complex to measure but social and digital deliver measurable value.

These six truths should support businesses to overcome their fear of social media and move in 2015 to embrace it.


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