I have a relation who’s a famous retired sportsman; a household name. He returned to his home town and wanted to join the local golf club, which had a waiting list. The membership officer explained to my famous relative that no, he couldn’t get an accelerated membership. He would be positioned at the bottom of the waiting list. When he recounted this to his 90 year old mother, she said, ‘well; looks like you’re not as important as you thought you were’. Which brings me to social media, in particular blogging and micro-blogging – tools like Twitter.

Passion killer

Reading through Rob Antulov’s summary points of the Future of Media session on Media and Social Networks; wanted to discuss this one: ‘many companies about which conversation occurs online are NOT tracking this conversation, so are missing out on a unique opportunity to listen and engage with some of their passionate consumers’.

Are those consumers who use social media any more passionate than other consumers? I don’t think so. How are they different to other consumers? They use technology more so they might be more passionate about technology but I think the passion ends there. As technology early-adopters they are more likely to be educated and affluent but from a market research viewpoint, this renders them uninteresting. They are not a representative sample. If I’m selling a mainstream product I’m interested in the opinions of a cross-section of consumers, not an elite niche. So much for the Passion Argument.

Follow my leader?

There are two other arguments often advanced for companies expending effort on social media. One is the Influence Argument, the notion that social media early adopters are more influential in the public realm than Joe Dokes, Couch Potato, passive media consumer.

At risk of heresy, Matt Cutts and Robert Scoble are no more influential on mainstream consumer opinion than Joe Dokes. In their own limited areas they exert influence; no argument. If you don’t know their names, I’ve made my point. Broader society is unaffected by blogging, micro-conversations and micro-blogging. The capacity of social media to influence mainstream media, and hence the mainstream, is pathetically small.

Conversation non-starter

Then there is the PR Argument; that a company can use social media to initiate positive conversations on the Internet and beyond (cue Buzz Lightyear) or respond to an adverse story before it gets a head of steam. Poster child for this is Southwest Airlines, which responds in near real time to Twitter users who mention the airline when they Tweet (blog).

I’m afraid this is influence at the margins. If Qantas had been using SouthWest Airlines’ approach would it have stopped or influenced the mainstream media blitz that followed their recent in-flight explosion? Not a skerrick.

I don’t think social media is an advertising medium or even a PR medium. It is a new kind of word-of-mouth and word-of-mouth derives from your staff and your policies (in that order). The capacity of your marketing department to drive it is negligible.

What is social media good for then?

Well what is social software good for? Access to the knowledge of informed people is a biggie. And you would have to say it has great potential as a tool for personal branding and personal promotion. If you own a business (particularly a tech start-up) and you want to raise your profile, invest hundreds of hours in blogging and micro-blogging – you might very well build a following.

But it’s not probably not going to make you more passionate or influential than Joe Dokes.

From a conversation with Myles Eftos.