Social Media


I was skeptical last week on my way to the Social Media Northwest conference at Whatcom Community College. The term “social media” sounded to me as if it were made up by a randomized buzzword generator. I knew that it had something to do with blogging and that Tom Dorr of the Small Business Development Center had pitched me personally to get me to come, but I had (and still have) lots of questions. What is “social media” and why should I care? By the end of the two day conference, I realized with both excitement and fear that this old dog had better learn some new tricks.

So what is social media? One way to think about it is as a collection of emerging technologies that includes social networks, directories, video sharing sites, blogs and Wikis that all have the notion of community collaboration in common. Wikipedia, an on-line collaborative encycloperia is a good example. In the past few years, Wikipedia use has been growing by over 20% per year. On the other hand, Microsoft Encarta, has been dropping in popularity. The difference is that Wikipedia is maintained and updated by a world-wide community of people, while Encarta is maintained by a single, centralized organization. This notion of community is at the heart of the term “social media.”

Mike Rich from ComScore tracks the digital landscape. At the conference, he presented one slide that showed social media technologies as the fastest growing segment of all Internet technologies at over 60% growth per year. So clearly something is happening here, but what it is, ain’t exactly clear… at least to me.

Throughout the conference, one speaker after another talked about viral marketing, blogging, social networking and social referral sites. At the end of the conference, Matthew Dunn interviewed Bob Pritchett (Logos), Brett Allsop, (president of Allsop Inc and co-founder of Yapta) and Chris Galvin (Wizards of the Coast). All three told compelling stories of how blogging and other social media tools have helped grow their businesses.

I left the conference intrigued and puzzled. I understand the concept of “viral marketing,” but the trick is in finding a viral message. Perhaps the best example is the “Will It Blend” videos on YouTube. This fellow in a white lab jacket holds up an object like a golf ball or an iPod and asks, “Will it blend?” as he drops it into a blender. Moments later the object is reduced to dust. The videos are so weird and funny that many people can’t resist telling their friends about it. When you watch the video, do you find yourself thinking, “That is one bad-assed blender” and maybe clicking through to the blender maker’s site? That’s viral marketing.

It was also pretty clear to me how blogging helps companies that serve an international market; but how would it help local businesses that serve other local businesses? Did I expect local business owners to start reading blogs? Not really, but I realized that if I want to help local business owners grow their businesses using information technologies, I had better get up to speed on the pros and cons of these social media technologies.

I went back to my office and created a Facebook account. Within a few minutes, I had a site working and I began collecting “friends”. I set a rule for myself that I would only add people who I know and appreciate having in my life… or were in my extended family. Within a couple days, the list had grown to over 40. It was pretty cool reconnecting with people I had almost lost track of and learning what they are up to now; however, I am still not clear on how Facebook will help my business.

I can clearly see how social networking tools can build my list of relationships and help me stay in touch with people, but unless this has a direct feed to my business, its value to me is less clear.

But what about blogs and blogging? This question has several related questions:

  • Who is my audience?
  • What do I have to say of value to that audience?
  • How will my audience even know that I am blogging?

In order to dig more deeply into these questions, I decided to conduct an experiment and start a blog. My trusty intern from Western, Andy Jaeger, got a blogging site set up and operational in about an hour using WordPress. He populated the blog with several of the prior issues of this column and I wrote some new blogs under the category of “Growing a small business.” Our blog site is at socratesgroup.wordpress.com. Check it out. I would be interested to hear any feedback you have.

I suspect that blogging makes lots of sense for some businesses and little sense for others. What is your experience? What are your questions and thoughts on Social Media? Please email me and let me know. In the next month I will sort this out and get back to you. In the meantime, this old dog is learning lots of new tricks.

Last updated on 9/17/2008

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