Why All the Confusion with Social Media?

I have been prepping these past few weeks for an onslaught of speaking engagements for different organizations. I am also coming fresh off the recent EdSocial Media Summit in San Francisco, an excellent gathering of some the best minds and industry best practices in social media. Each of these experiences has me a bit perplexed about the confusion in the industry about the use of social media. I hear from so many attendees and clients that they are "confused" with social media, or just don't know how to get started.

Here's the deal about social media from my vantage point. We have never had so many intuitive, audience-friendly, engaging, inexpensive tools available to engage our audiences before in this industry. My hot words are bold here for a point.

  1. Intuitive - Come on. Social media is really easy to use. If you can run an app on your iPhone, you can run a social media site.
  2. Audience-Friendly - This is where our audience is. On social media. We don't need to work so hard to find them if we become one with them.
  3. Engaging - Social media allows organizations to stop promotion and start engagement. Our audiences are tired and skeptical about promotion.
  4. Inexpensive - Social media is cheap. Really cheap compared to the print and advertising alternative.

Now, before we elect social media as the panacea to marketing, let's be clear about a few important marketing issues. We tend to confuse activity with meaning. Just because we can easily publish any photo or video we want, that does not mean we should. Social media is still like any other marketing communications tool in that it needs to be consistent, integrated, and have effective messages. Again, I've underlined my hot words for a point.

  1. Consistent - No matter what tools your school uses, let's make sure that you are being consistent in all media the messages that you want to convey. Volvo is not just about "safety" in some materials and not in others.
  2. Integrated - All marketing communication strategies need to be integrated so that the tools in a system work in concert.
  3. Effective - What are you really trying to communicate? Make sure that the key message is crystal clear. "What" is conveyed in a viral video should be the same message in a website or print media. It is the "how" that message is conveyed that is different.

It's pretty simple. Social media offers a great new set of tools that we all should embrace. And, it also opens up many challenges for the organization that does not have clear or consistent messaging. In fact, adding social media to an already faltering marketing organization will likely accentuate the negative. Translation: If you don't have your act together, social media will demonstrate that for all to see.

If we can look at these tools for what they really are - a new set of tools that allow us much more freedom and flexibility - and use the same common sense that we should be practicing anyway - I think we are going to be just fine.