Guest Blogger Dawn DeVirgilio: Four Social Media Myths

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Customer Experience
A number of popular myths have invaded the interactive marketing world in recent weeks and I think it's time to take them on.

I remember thinking that the Greek and Roman mythology unit in my Junior High Social Studies class was really boring. But in the past few years several movies have come out (Troy, Clash of the Titans, and even Percy Jackson) that have made those ancient legends seem cool. Pure fantasy, but cool nonetheless.

The term "myth," according to the dictionary, can refer to a traditional story about the history of a people group (e.g., the ancient gods). Or it can mean a popular, but false, belief or idea.

A number of popular myths have invaded the interactive marketing world in recent weeks and I think it's time to take them on.
Interactive social media marketing is a powerful thing. By nature it is global, interpersonal, and electronically delivered. So the consequences for propagating a load of BS are huge. If your customers, for example, see your email campaigns as the best way for them to buy your products, but your marketing team is convinced by yesterday's headline that email is dead, you're in for some serious clean-up.

Our research recently exposed four of the most prolific (or at least memorable) social media myths:

1) Email is dead: A dose of drama was launched into the Web-o-sphere recently concerning this e-obituary. "Nine Reasons Why Email Is Dead" is my favorite headline (couldn't they come up with one more?). Nielsen's NetView blog unfortunately fueled the fire by citing some downward statistics on email usage. A closer look at the blog revealed some overlooked data regarding mobile email, which actually showed a modest increase. Nineteen percent of consumers reported using email more between October 2009 and April 2010.

2) Facebook fan monetized: A Syncapse HotSpex study tagged the average Facebook fan as being worth $136.38, basically saying that if you're a fan of a certain product you'll spend more money in the long run than a non-fan. Our research showed that 17 percent of consumers were more likely to buy a product if they "like" that brand, but just because I tell everyone on Facebook that I love Oreo's doesn't necessarily mean I'm going to buy more.

3) Twitter's success hinges on celebrities: A few Hollywood hotties gave up on Twitter this year, and headlines immediately started predicting The End Of Twitter. But a few celebrities taking time off from tweeting doesn't change the continued, dramatic growth of the site: Twitter is still reporting around 370,000 new user sign-ups per day. The site definitely owes a lot of initial success to Miley Cyrus, John Mayer, and others, but there's a new kind of Twitter celeb: the person who makes their presence known simply by using the site, fanning their own fame 140 characters at a time.

4) Social media makes us antisocial: If authors Malcolm Gladwell and Mark W. Schaefer are right, the social media surge is creating a cowardly, antisocial society, giving people permission to avoid face-to-face contact. We're suppressing our social skills and stunting our brain-growth. But Malcolm and Mark got it wrong; increases in Facebook and Twitter usage correlate to increases in face-to-face interactions. According to our research data, it turns out that social people use social media to complement their in-person social connections, not hide from them.

Great marketing strategies don't come from reacting to headlines. Don't worry about who quits Twitter. It might not be relevant. Start by asking smarter questions. Then listen and pay attention to what consumers are doing across all social media channels.

Here are a few considerations to fuel your skepticism:

1) Where did the information come from?
The Web is rife with 140-character "Particle-Pundits," people who can apparently solve the world's problems with a couple of tweets. That's all good unless these half-pint prophets fail to call their theory a theory. Readers "like" it, retweet it, in effect truth-stamp it. And before you know it, it's a viral headline with no context. Be a reporter and check your sources.

2) Where's the data?
Data is king. The "death of email" myth started in the Nielsen NetView blog only because the data to debunk the claim were overlooked. As marketers, we can keep the rest of the world from needless myth-busting by using clean, valid data.

3) Ooooh, shiny!
"Shiny Object Syndrome" is endemic in the marketing tech world, and can be really misleading. It is still unclear whether a Facebook fan can be monetized, but if your company is new to the social media world, a hundred bucks per fan looks like a pretty good deal.

Brilliant marketers will avoid the myths surrounding the social media web. After all, there are millions of people out there, and at least nine of them have brilliant ideas. Armed with awareness, patience, and really excellent data, you can charge up Mount Olympus and take on the gods.

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About the Author: Dawn DeVirgilio is social product manager at ExactTarget