The social media emperor isn't quite naked – but nearly so, and highly over-rated. While there may be some value to it in some businesses sometimes, for most it is a faddish waste of time. And many of the businesses using it are misusing it.
Someone from the Harvard Business Review (imagine that – a Harvard person in a state of rapture over a useless business fad!) wrote about receiving an email offer from Groupon for something that tuned out to be a knockoff. She alerted Groupon via Twitter. Groupon fixed the problem. Full stop. End of story. But, of course, the story goes on.
Groupon has a perfectly good web site, with a fully functioning customer service mechanism for reporting such matters. They also have a toll free phone number. Through either means, our author could have contacted them to alert them of the problem. Instead, however, she 'tweeted' them with, "Is it false advertising if @Groupon_UK sends email clearly stating @Fatboy_original Buggle Up Beanbag 60% off, clicking thru it is knockoff?", and later with "Clearly states Fatboy Buggle Up Beanbag for #89 from ILocal Furniture in @Groupon_UK email, but then BigDaddy Beanbag on @Groupon_UK site." The lack of a clear description of her issue in plain English, of course, is due to the 140 character limitation of Twitter.
She called the article, and the event, "Boardroom Lessons from a Social Media Misstep." In fact, social media had absolutely nothing to do with it, other than the fact that she chose to use the truncated language of Twitter, rather than the more effective customer service form or the phone.
I have a Twitter account – you can find it at MFGWaddell if you want. The only thing I tweet is that I have posted another piece on the blog, or written an article that appeared somewhere. I figure that might save the folks who read my stuff the trouble of having to check every day to see if there is anything new. Other than that, I can think of absolutely no reason to harass people with my tweets. I follow few others because I don't need or want cryptic notices of the details of anyone else's thoughts clogging my phone or email.
I have a Blackberry (I know I should upgrade but I dread change cell phones) and through it I get emails, text messages and phone calls from just about everyone whose thoughts, lives and opinions are important to me. I can think of no reason why I would want any of those people to send me 140 character encoded messages instead. I suspect the same is true of your business. Who do you want to communicate with? Your employees? Customers? Suppliers? What exactly is it you have to say that is better done trough Twitspeak than email or a phone call?
Consumer product companies are a different story because you have a potentially huge, unknown audience with which to communicate, but you had better be a whole lot smarter than most companies. A guy I know in New Zealand once told me I should follow the airlines on Twitter because they occasionally tweet great, last minute ticket deals. I took his advice and followed United - for a little less than 48 hours. I don't care if they are giving away tickets, it isn't worth being inundated with crap about their daily (perhaps hourly) announcements about discount fares to Bermuda and the wonderful things that will happen to me if I get one of their credit cards.
And Facebook??? If you are running a cake decorating business out of your kitchen, perhaps Facebook is a valuable tool – but for a big time business I can't see the point.
If there is any business value to Facebook it would be from the opportunity to have two way discussions with customers. Better to do it over the phone – a lot quicker and more efficient – but Facebook might be a workable alternative. Not if you are one of the big pharms, however. As I mentioned a few weeks back, they are quitting Facebook before they will stand for people being allowed to hold up their end of a Facebook conversation.
GM hired a guy from a New York ad agency who doesn't even own a car – who in turn hired 35 people – whose "work includes running Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages for Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC." So much for two way communications about your car with GM through social networking. They view it – like the big pharms – as just another way to hype, spin and blow smoke at a gullible public.
If you are a legitimate business with something to say to your customers, pick up the phone and call them – send them a personal email – but don't twit tweets at them. And if you are going to have a Facebook page, then for God's sake let your customers post comments, and have someone who works for you who knows something about the business and the products respond to their comments.