Thursday, February 26, 2009

Fallacies, illusions and dogmas of social media

Having spent the best part of the past twelve years operating on the treaterous frontier of progress defined by the combination 'business + innovation + technology' the phenomenon of stubbornly odd pursuits of generally accepted truths makes me wonder sometimes. It does seem to remain valid with each wave of innovation imposing fads as reality for as long as it takes for deception to sink in thus leaving room for people who actually deal with the nuts and bolts of new practices to create forms that can be adopted. In this article we'll identify what I consider to be the top 5 fallacious propositions in today's social media environment.

A couple of stories with 5 major and often iritating common points:

story# 1: about 6-9 months ago I came across a most ridiculous Facebook group that was designed to gather the people who had more than 500 "friends". The group's communication essentially said that it was a way of selecting "really influential" people from "regular folks" using the platform... Parisian pseudo elitism or just plain idiocy you think?

story# 2: a couple of weeks ago, someone I've known for years, an alumni of my B-School told me very seriously: "I've created my profile on this great professional networking tool... you know? It's called LinkedIn. Now I need to get past the 250 contacts mark because I've been told it's what you need to be in the big league in this space. I'm glad we're speaking about it so I can add you too..."

story# 3: early 2008 a friend of mine who's running a training and human development company told me about the latest disaster that had struck them as a highly creative chap recast their website, but forgot to make necessary redirects and pages to provide for continuity in search positonning and PageRank. The complaint was that the site no longer showed up in the so-called "golden triangle" and the traffic had gone down. So they went on to use an SEO company that promised lots of traffic and a return to the top spots of page 1 of search results

So what's are the common points in those stories:

  1. the fallacy of 500+ contacts in platforms like Facebook, which are primarily for personal use, consumer to consumer and business to consumer interactions... which leads me to wonder how many of those contacts are actually active, alive, vibrant and what the point of having 300, 500 or 700 contacts is beyond inflating already bloated egoes

  2. the pseudo-scientific prescriptions behind very precise quantitative limits like my friend's 250 contacts on LinkedIn, which makes me wonder what the point is with having contacts with people one has met only once or one is "rediscovering" after years of absence (e.g. university alumni lost from the radar since graduation)? At the end of the day, some of the most intense and productive business contacts some of us have are not at all on LinkedIn and make a point of not being there, although they are present in more secretive circles and directories accessible by invitation only

  3. the illusion of power, of being able to drive quantifiable results when in fact whatever emerges emerges as a result of substance which someone is working on. I mean, I've been doing work for companies and people in different places and despite the fact that I'm based in Brussels my network statistics on LinkedIn show strong bias for regions like California, New York, India... and of course part of it can be explained by the earlier or stronger adoption of the tool in those areas compared to Belgium, Luxembourg and France

  4. a confusion of ends and means: being positioned on a search engine or having an online network or Twitter following of a given size is not an end in itself, but rather a consequence of something else one is doing, like for example exchanging useful tips and data with other people on Twitter, now a major source of intelligence for me. Under very specific circumstances, the network that emerges may become a means like for example when someone had the brilliant idea of launching the Twestival, however that does not mean that social media can be used for justa bout anything and that's a word of caution to marketers whose professional world is abuzz with the "social media opportunity". So far, I understand that purely commercial or sales initiatives are not very well received because social media are not transactional and because people want to keep some control over their attention

  5. something necessary is not always sufficient: being positioned ona  search engine is nice and having "lots of traffic" as some SEO companies promise is whatever you want it to be, but at the end of the day optimizing a site for search is only a necessary step and not necessarily a sufficient step because content is increasingly important and a longer term bet. What's the use of having a boost in traffic and an increase in the bounce rate? What's the point in having traffic even with a "reasonable" bounce rate (whatever that is for your line of business) if that does not translate into actual profitable business? This comes back to what we were doing in math classes when learning about the subbtle distinctions between logical implications and logical equivalence...

I'm quite certain you have your own stories that resonate with the five points above. We need to speak some basic no-nonsense truths in this space, else bubbles inflate and explode in often painful way.

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