Is there any hope for social media to produce value for your business? Yes, but only if you understand how things have changed.
Do you remember when you first got into social media? If you were an early adopter, it was probably between 2007 and 2008. Otherwise, you fell into it whenever the pressure to join reached your personal tipping point. Back then, social media was so easy. You posted a few interesting things and you received new likes and new friends. So why does it seem so hard - and so challenging - today?
Let's start with the numbers. Back in 2007, there were roughly 30 million social media users worldwide. By 2008, there were 60 million. By 2010 we hit 1 billion. And today? At the time we write this there are approximately 2.1 billion active social media users. Those are really big numbers - sort of hard to wrap your mind around. So think about it this way. If we were counting seconds instead of users, then in 2007 those 30 million users would be the equivalent of 1 year. If those 2.1 billion active users now were seconds, that would be 65 years. 1 year versus 65 years. Big difference, yes?
Or let's compare those numbers to distance. If the number of active users were inches, then in 2007, those inches would be like driving across the state of Nebraska from east to west. Today, those inches would be like driving all the way around the world at the equator, and then going halfway around the world again.
Wondering why social media is so hard? Because most people's effort in social media is the equivalent of swimming across a swimming pool, but today's social media requires you to swim across the Atlantic Ocean.
It doesn't really take a lot of effort to swim across a swimming pool. Even if you're a terrible swimmer, as long as you aren't terrified of the water and can keep moving, you can get across. No formal knowledge of swimming is required. But to swim across the Atlantic? That takes knowledge, skills, experience, and preparation. You need to understand ocean currents, wind, weather, thermo-dynamics, and your physical body right down to the biology. You need specialized gear, a support team, and financing. Nobody - now matter how strong or how determined or how excellent his instincts - can swim across the Atlantic ocean without formal knowledge.
Formal knowledge is very different from instinct.
The good news is that the formal knowledge that social media requires is not rocket science. It can be learned by anyone interested enough to learn it. But if you're counting on instincts alone to make your social media pay off, it can't. Not any more. Not with these numbers. If you believe that posting an interesting product and description is the same as posting the right things, you're wasting time. If you think that words — specific words, the number of words, the organization of words — don't matter, you're wasting ink. Friends aren't the same thing as buyers, and followers aren't necessarily prospects.
Social media is a lot harder now. It requires attention, and time, and understanding of marketing editorial. It requires knowledge of the types of sharing you must do, and how often for each channel. It requires strategic interaction with paid presence. It requires keeping up with the constant changes of the medium. And it requires testing, testing, testing. You can't just write a little bit every day or post a few pictures. Well, you can, but if that's what you're doing, then make sure you're having fun. Because the payoff for 2008-style social media will only be in its inherent entertainment value. If you want social media to pay off in business value for you today, it must be taken seriously.
We don't say this to shake you up. We share this information because it is true. We share this information because your time is too precious to waste, so if you weren't already aware of this massive shift in social media performance, you can pay attention now. Social media is today's advertising medium. It can have tremendous value for your business. But to succeed using it, you need to move from instinct to formal knowledge.