2013: The Year that Social Media Will Run out of Kool-Aid

Social media strategies must be based on the unique structure of your own community.
Will this be the year that social media marketers stop "drinking the Kool-Aid?" (Photo courtesy of zombieite on Flickr)

Anyone who operates within the social media space knows all too well “the bandwagon effect” that new platforms and pundits’ prognostications can have on the entire ecosystem.  A new tool is released, a different approach to a standard procedure is introduced, predictions abound of what direction the industry is headed in, and advice on how to maximize your social media efforts are as common as spilled popcorn on a movie theatre floor. Those that blindly follow advice without critical examination or thinking of the nuances of their own communities are often referred to as “drinking the Kool-Aid.”

In the early days of social media adoption, many people rushed to implement or adopt what others were saying worked without truly vetting out a strategy and factoring in nuances of their own niche markets and how these could affect their results. For some, following the crowd worked because their target markets happen to fall within those best suited for the new tools and resources available. Others though, failed to apply the new tools and resources into their own context and customize their use or flat out rule them ineligible based on the unique behaviors of their community.

What we have learned over the past few years from experienced social media professionals and organizations who offer advice on how to use new tools and platforms along with “best practices” for existing ones is to take it all with a grain of salt. Just because the shiny new social media toy is cool and offers amazing creative opportunities and new ways to engage with an audience (Pinterest comes to mind) or advice on how to use an existing platform that promises to offer amazing results doesn’t necessarily mean this is the right fit for our goals and objectives.

Take the plethora of articles that explain the “best time to Tweet” as an example. They offer advice on the best days of the week to send tweets, what time of the day is most effective, and how long a tweet should be to entice engagement. Since I myself have established a foundation of identified business objectives, mapped out a strategy, and defined metrics for the data necessary to evaluate the success of my marketing activities I know that none of the advice on the best time to Tweet applies to my target market because most of my community is international and consumes information and engages with others on days and times outside of the U.S. time zones. I don’t include the number of retweets as part of my key performance indicators and have moved well beyond simple social endorsements as a measure of success because they don’t provide the data necessary to evaluate the success of my social media marketing activities.

Instead, I realized some time ago that my social activity needed to have a purpose beyond engagement. Connecting with the right people and facilitating them to act are what’s important to me and although the articles with flashing neon lights around them on the “best times to post on Facebook” or “5 steps to leverage xyz social media platform” are all helpful in some capacity, an intelligent and effective marketing and social strategy for me uses this information and puts in into context based on the unique shape and needs of my own community.

2013 is the year that we start to think about the unique qualities that define our own markets and how we can leverage industry advice based on custom metrics that drive meaningful analytics instead of a knee jerk reaction that incorporates advice without taking into consideration the wants and needs of our own communities.

What are some ways that you customize blanket advice to match the unique qualities of the communities you serve?

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  • Excellent post! So timely and purposeful! Thanks.

    • John Trader

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Ashlee!

  • ffakatelyn

    I think that the PR world has a lot of challenges to overcome with being told how to do their jobs, however as a beginner, I think a valuable lesson I have learned is to take what I already know and be an innovative thinker in my field.

    • John Trader

      Thanks for the feedback Katelyn. As the PR and social media world has evolved, we shifted from a band wagon mentality to more of a metric and results driven entity which bides well for the credibility and integrity of the industry.

      Your suggestion of taking existing knowledge and blazing your own trail is spot on and should be adopted by other PR pros. Well said!

  • Pingback: Will 2013 Be The Year We Stop Drinking The Social Media Kool-Aid? | Jessica Malnik()

  • Toni

    This is a great post! I’m a student and I’m taking a Social Media for Public Relations course and I’m learning that any social media outlet can be a tool! But of course, in order for the tool to work, engagement and purpose (like you express here in your post) must be behind it all! I had to learn this first hand with Twitter. Many young students my age don’t know the full potential of Twitter because they aren’t using it to interact professionally. Not that there’s anything wrong with using it recreationally, but Twitter can be a helpful tool that keeps you in the loop of what’s happening with a brand, or what’s happening in the world, if you know how to use it!

    • Great observations and thanks for the comments Toni. You’re right about Twitter — it can be an amazing tool to build relationships, cultivate them, and then use as a platform for continued interaction. Some folks haven’t quite figured out the potential of some tools yet, but as we move forward with more detailed analysis of ourselves and our market’s unique characteristics, I think more people will intelligently decide which tools are the right fit for them.

  • Good thoughts. Historically though, the people who drank the Kool-Aid at Jonestown did not do so blindly. Eyewitness accounts claim that most, including Rev Jim Jones himself, refused to drink it and Jones’ own bodyguards literally forced it down his throat in the end. So in reality “drinking the Kool-Aid” requires something detrimental to be forced down a person’s throat.

    It seems interesting thought that the concept of your article still applies with this altered point of view. Not all experiences with social media and business have been positive. Many business owners have felt force-fed social media and many have failed to show the awesome results that are held up by others who declare social media the end to all woes.

    So perhaps this IS the year when the Kool-Aid runs out. More people can see social media for what it is. Not some form of magic but rather one of many tools that can be effective IF used effectively.

  • Well said! I can think of any number of client meetings which asked “what are the best practices?” when they should have realized that one solution doesn’t fit all. As PR pros, it’s our job to make sure our clients get social media plans that fit their business’s goals and resonate with their audience, not some cookie-cutter “post all your tweets between 2-5pm” approach.