You Can Stop the Social Media Hype

Don’t trust anyone who says they’ll reveal the “secrets of social media.” There are no secrets of social media. As someone who’s seen the bubble of the early web and new media business burst, I’m feeling a sense of deja vu.

There are people who make a good living off hype and the naivete of others. They see a short window of time when people are still in learning mode or “behind the curve,” and they swoop in with shiny promises bathed in snake oil, take as much money as they can get, then run.

The rest of us are left here in their greedy and destructive wake to pick up the pieces and, worse, to deal with the disillusionment of people who’ve been burned by a con artist claiming to know the “secrets” of social media that will make everyone rich.

We’ve been here before. Some new technological developments (the web, for instance) have had a major impact on how we communicated and did business. Unfortunately, everyone treated these technical advances as the silver bullet, the cure-all magic potion, the most important thing we must all now embrace lest we get left behind and suffer in a life of failure.

The 5 C’s of the Web and Social Media

In 1995, I began teaching workshops about the Internet to businesspeople and spoke of the “5 C’s of the Web”:

  1. Communications. The Internet and the Web were technologies that were transforming the way we communicated.
  2. Connection. Being online connected us to people and to information more quickly and easily than ever before.
  3. Community. The Internet and Web was bringing together like-minded people for mutual support and friendship.
  4. Convenience. Using the Internet could close distances, reduce time, and help us do things more efficiently and effectively.
  5. Creativity. The Web was helping to “level the playing field,” putting tools of creation in the hands of the individual.

Today, with the advent of social media — a vast and growing set of tools with greater interactive (“social”) functionality — we still have the same 5 C’s:

  1. Communications: Check. Although now we’re calling this “Conversations.”
  2. Connection: Check. Our connections to people are augmented through social networking functions. Our connections to information are augmented through feeds and sharing functions. We’re so connected now, our minds are boggled.
  3. Community: Check. Social networking functions enhance the ways we can start and grow communities.
  4. Convenience: Check. Never before have we had so much information and so many tools at our fingertips.
  5. Creativity: Check. From the ease of setting up a blog to building a presence on a social network, anyone with access to the Internet and a computer can create and publish virtually anything online.

Let me put a few things into perspective for you (and I’m interested in hearing your thoughts on these points):

  • Social media won’t save the world. The social web — along with increased access to broadband and wireless/mobile networks — is bringing more people together. But the tools that make up “social media” are not world-savers. People can save the world; social media tools can help people to make positive change.
  • Social media won’t save the economy. Just as the Web and new media companies got investors excited and Wall Street aflutter, so does anything new and promising. Investors, like entrepreneurs, take risks and that is a good thing. LinkedIn going public isn’t going to change our society or our economy. It will make a few people rich on paper and may start a VC frenzy for a while, then everything will shake out.
  • Social media won’t save your life. Now I can point to many examples of people who will say the Internet saved their life or Twitter saved their life. But the truth is that other people saved their lives and all the Internet — or Twitter, or Facebook, or the blogosphere – did was make it easier to reach out and to be reached.

The social web is made up of people connecting with one another or to information that is important to them. We don’t all need social networks and blogs and Twitter to succeed at anything.

We can augment our efforts with social media tools and tactics, but if our intentions are bad, greedy, evil and destructive, we will continue to hurt others and ourselves despite the promise of new technologies. As long as we continue to buy into the hype of new technologies and look to communications tools and platforms to save us, we’re doomed. We need to conduct business well, provide quality products or services, care about our customers and give back to our communities.

How are you combating the social media hype?

image by stock xchng user prole

diagram by Aliza Sherman