Repost from IBM Social Business Insights: The Social Media Wars (Part 1 of 2)

Earlier this year I started blogging for the IBM Social Business Insights blog as part of a team of IBM Redbook Thought Leaders. I'll be reposting those blog posts here on my personal blog.
The Social Media Wars (Part 1 of 2)  was originally published on April 12, 2012, and is owned by IBM.
I recommend checking out the IBM Social Business Insights blog for some compelling and though-provoking content. 

The Social Media Wars (Part 1 of 2)  

The world of online social media and networking is fast-moving and fluid. New applications and platforms are released daily. Thousands of experts write an endless number of articles telling you what you should and shouldn’t do, how to make money, how to capture fans, how many times a day to post, and what to say in each and every one of them. It can be intimidating. Some days, it might be tempting to throw up your hands and refuse to play because you don’t know who to trust, what’s best for your business, what works for your employees and for you personally, which platform you should use, and where and how you should use it.

 Don’t worry — I’m not going to ask you for $29.99 to buy my e-book, and I don’t own stock in any of the “Big Five” of social media – Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, or Pinterest. In the interest of full disclosure, I will say that I’m an IBM employee who’s been deeply involved in social media and social networking for three years (and loving it). In that time, I have seen the hype grow around “social” in much the same way virtual worlds took the world by storm five years ago. There is some pressure to stay away from the term “social” for this communication phenomenon and new way of connecting virtually. The argument is that “social” sounds shallow and unprofessional, and by extension, something not advantageous for business. Nothing could be further from the truth. You probably see the terms social media, social networking and social business thrown around and used interchangeably.

As more of the population becomes digitally savvy, there will be less confusion and more clarity on which term to use when. But to start:Social media describes the various platforms and tools that enable social networking to take place. Any time you see a mention of Facebook or Twitter, know that people are talking about social media channels and platforms, which, if you look under the covers and ignore the hype, are really just the means of two-way communication.

 Social networking is a broader term that incorporates the communication that takes place in the social media channels among the connections you have created. Social networking is an all-encompassing term that can include communications, relationships, engagement, community building, and collaboration.

Social business is a broadest term of the three, and arguably the most difficult to define because it can incorporate how you communicate, engage and collaborate, both externally and internally. It is a term that is bandied about recklessly, but just because you use social media doesn’t mean that you’re a social business, even though it usually includes social networking and social media. IBM, for example, characterizes social business as cultivating trusted relationships and encouraging innovation and collaboration to make people more effective, and integrates the three fundamental characteristics of engagement, transparency, and nimbleness. You could safely think of social media as just one element of your marketing plan. Every social media channel has its pluses and minuses, and before you decide which channel or channels make the most sense for you to commit resources to, you need to define your objective so you can build your strategy. Do you want to create:
  • Thought leadership? 
  • Sales leads? 
  • Partnership opportunities? 
  • Conversion of leads to sales? 
  • Direct sales? Traffic to your website or blog? 
  • Business for your brick and mortar stores? 
  • Business for your online stores?
You’ll see multiple articles discussing the battle for dominance and predicting the imminent demise of one or more of the “big five” of the social media channels. I don’t see any of them closing the doors in the near future, and I’m sure a year from now there will be additional contenders.

Note: You might have noticed that I did not include YouTube in my list of the Big Five. Although many consider it a social media channel, it is by definition, video only, and although it’s a great video repository with an impressive amount of traffic, it’s not a channel I would recommend when you’re first starting out. However, it is a good place to post videos, and then link to them from your website or social media channels.

In part 2 of this blog post, I will continue my thoughts about the current pros and cons of each of the Big Five, list the general rules to be aware of before kicking off your social media program, and include resources to get you started.