What’s the relative value of social media?

This report on “Social Media and Advocacy” has generated quite a bit of buzz, with posts on TechPresident and elsewhere. It ranks more than a hundred big trade and advocacy associations on their use of a number of social media tools. Many have adopted very few, and hence score low. Only ten organizations use half or more of the tools discussed.

So far, so good–but what does that mean? It means opportunity, certainly for social media consultants who can help those who want to move “up” the list, and perhaps for the organizations themselves too.

While the survey is a useful overview, very little seems to follow from the rankings, in my view. Several people have pointed out that high scores in the report do not necessarily correlate with high visibility online (see for instance Morningside Analytics‘ take).

Simply plugging “adopt, adopt, adopt” when it comes to social media seems to be like going back to the mindset of the initial corporate adoption of ICTs–just hire a bunch of “those people”, and let them do “whatever it is they do”, without really wondering why. In the long run, it might help, but then again, in the long run, we are all dead.

A trickier question is how social media use square with the various first principles and instrumental strategies of these very diverse big organizations in their day-to-day work–many of the ones ranked are industry lobbies, after all!

How relatively valuable are social media, when the agendas pursued so often are special interests? What do the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America (scored last, using zero of the tools in question) really have to gain from adopting all these new technologies? Visibility? (do they want that?) A way to  engage their constituency? (is there one?) Aren’t they actually better off just plying their trade in relative secrecy, as interest organizations are wont to do? And isn’t it then up to those who might want to fight them to bring them out in the more open terrain created by social media?

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2 responses to “What’s the relative value of social media?

  1. Nice post. As one way to answer your questions, have you seen any data on the success rate of social media tools implemented by organizations that don’t really have much business using them? Based on casual observations, I suspect there are an abundance of very hyped and very empty social media ghost towns (or perhaps graveyards by this point) out there.

    • Thanks Josh, we share that intuition, there certainly are ghost towns out there. I don’t know of any really good overviews, it would be interesting to compile one.

      The flip side of the skeptical position that I generally adopt, is that it may help predict failures, but not innovative successes. In retrospect, the Dean campaign makes perfect sense, but I don’t think I would have foreseen that a moderate governor from a small state could become an Internet sensation by using new tools to leverage a core constituency’s opposition to the war in Iraq, President Bush, and a field of tepid Democratic contenders for the nomination.

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