Criticising Social Media

I picked up a recent article from the Observer newspaper ‘Twitter and Facebook cannot change the real world‘ where Malcolm Gladwell, esteemed author, argues that in certain contexts, Social Media is both overhyped and ineffective. He specifically discusses the ability of Social Media to encourage Social Change but the points equally apply to Business Success in my opinion.

Gladwell himself wrote one of the first books which illustrates the essence of Social Media, the Tipping Point: How Little things can make a big difference, albeit there are no direct Social Media references within it and Gladwell is admittedly a technological luddite. I urge you to read it.

As a digital convert far from being outraged at this article (believe me, many were) I welcome counter arguments for Social Media and particularly from someone as skilled and eloquent as Gladwell. It is seldom indeed that we hear anything but the same positive messages and I can’t help but feel that this can only lead to complacency – critical review makes a concept stronger not weaker.

Within his recent discourse, Gladwell makes at least two key points which I agree with:

  1. “(Social Networks) do not promote the passionate collective engagement that causes individuals to make commitments”
  2. “Social networks are effective at increasing participation by lessening the motivation that participation requires”

For some time now we have been arguing that Social Networks and Social Media without deliberate design and ongoing nurturing and management, will not create a passionate, collective engagement around a product, brand or organisation. This just does not happen without lots of effort and a strong focus on planning.

Gladwell also picks up on the fact that it is now easier than ever before to build a wide following of apparently “passionate” individuals. It is particularly easy to ‘like’ or join a company’s Facebook Page but ‘liking’ in this sense, is not enough. This is particularly relevant to those companies that talk about the number of ‘likers’ as they might sales, turnover or enquiries. What difference is this ‘interest’ making? Remember website “hits” anyone?

There is a recipe for success in this regard, which involves agreeing a strategy, vision and objectives and at a more detailed level channel management activities around the 4C’s of Content, Customer, Conversation and Conversion. Something Jim and I will discuss at a later date.

Gladwell may be cocking a snoop at the digirati and to be honest it would appear that much of this is simply Gladwell stirring up some interest in a debate that is also close to his heart (if not his pocket) – the future of the newspaper and the long-form article.

But let’s not discount the points he is making – use them to first question and then strengthen your own beliefs and approaches for Social Media and Business Success.

Comments welcome as always



About Alan Stevenson

Over the last fifteen years I have split my time almost equally between Developing Digital strategies for public and private sector clients and helping organisations visualise, specify, plan and optimise technology-based solutions within their organisation.
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