By Stanford Smith, Contributing {grow} Columnist

I’m worried about the social media movement.

Although in some ways the initial enthusiasm in social was overblown, we were right to place high expectations on the convergence of media, social networking, and collaboraton.

However, as of late, something seems to be missing.

Thoughtful dialogue has turned to petty conversations about rules and technique.

Thought Leadership has morphed into clever personal grandstanding.

When I think I’m going a bit overboard I can’t help but notice some disturbing signs – starting with …

The Selling Out of Social Media

One sign is the gradual co-opting of social media as a broadcast tactic. Marketing professionals increasingly use social networks as a platform for reaching precise demographics. Facebook ads for soccer moms, LinkedIn for HR professionals, Twitter for novel writers, whatever slice you want, a social network has it.

It seems that the social faithful have gone to sleep and allowed the pendulum to swing too far to the media side of “social media” cutting the heart out of the movement.

Unfortunately, this approach guarantees that Social Media will play second fiddle to PPC, email marketing, and even SEO in the market discussion.

This is not where we want to end up.

Perhaps this is inevitable since it seems that we have precious few innovators in the field.

Where Are The Innovators?

It’s been a while since I had a “wow” moment.  It seems that the rule of the day is to “model” (read shamelessly copy) instead of innovating. The evidence surrounds us.

There are numerous Old Spice Q&A spin-offs, CEOs are racing to match Tony Hsieh’s Twitter engagement, every company wants Facebook Fan page razzle-dazzle. However, no one is pushing social engagement into new territory.

To be fair, we are struggling to find where that new territory is but far too many of us are content with being copycats and pundits rather than innovators.

Even though this is troubling, there’s one more sign that threatens to hollow-out the promise of social media …

Conversations or Professional Small Talk?

Do a quick audit of company Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and you’ll see a disturbing trend, I call it the rise of “Professional Small Talk”.

It works like this, instead of having meaningful dialogue, the company loads its tweets and Facebook posts with inane conversation starters. You know what I’m talking about -

  • “Do you prefer a hot or “white” Christmas?
  • What are you wearing today?
  • What is your favorite season?

This small talk is entice a person to comment or share. From there, the so-called engagement is rolled up into fancy metric reports showing hockey-stick engagement growth. Does the audience really feel any closer to the business? Nope. But somebody’s spreadsheet looks a lot better.

While Professional Small Talk looks like engagement, its just panders to small thinking and guts the social movement in the process.

So what’s going on here?

3 Habits That Are Sabotaging The Social Movement

Three bad habits have conspired to rob the social movement of its momentum. I’ll touch on them and we can discuss them at length in the comments. Here we go:

Tool Addiction: Sharper minds among us tried their best to intervene and break us of our tool habit. They were unsuccessful despite their tireless work.  The race to focus on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn techniques dumbed down our thinking and forced us to sit at the kiddie strategy table.

ROI Fixation and Vanity Metrics: Almost from the start, “practitioners of the obvious “started beating the ROI Drum. Before marketing professionals even fully recognized the benefit of social business, the ROI priesthood began challenging social’s efficacy.

Instead of calling for patience, harassed social media managers raced to embrace Klout, Follower vs. Following stats, retweets, Likes and other vanity metrics. While the metrics placated executive teams, it forced us to use an inadequate quantitative narrative to describe a powerful qualitative phenomenon.

The Engagement Rut: On the opposite side of ROI Fixation is The Engagement Rut. This happens when simply commenting or tweeting satisfies social media goals. Companies unwittingly embraced this by creating social teams who just needed to “show up” and tweet from a loose script.

Along the way the social program became unhitched from business goals and strategy. Soon, the social person became the passionate and chatty person at the party who didn’t have the faintest clue why she was invited to the party in the first place.

How to Kickstart The Social Movement

I may be biting off more than I can chew here, after all social business is more than just a 700 word topic. However, I believe there are a few key questions that will refocus our attention on what makes social business special and profoundly important to every aspect of business.

How Can Customers Drive Innovation?
Businesses have to invite customers into the design studio. Sustainable innovation will come from satisfying and anticipating customer needs.

Sure, I know Henry Ford’s (and Steve Jobs’) innovation caveat – “If I asked my customers what they wanted they would have said a faster horse and buggy” but we shouldn’t use this to lock customers out of meaningful product development collaboration.

Social provides amazing tools for this collaboration and we should be taking the lead in developing and implementing them. Businesses who use social to view customers as the source as well as the beneficiary of innovation will achieve enduring competitive advantage.

How Do We Restore Real Dialogue?
We urgently need to move away from ‘Professional Small Talk” and start focus on building relationships through meaningful conversation.

Notice that the goal is a relationship not just a mention. Once we get our priorities straight we will be able to align expectations around customer lifetime value, loyalty, and advocacy.

How Is Your Organization (or client) Inspiring Its Customers, Employees and Partners?
Social business draws its power from fantastic products and services. People want to talk about their purchases, social media just gives them an efficient way to do so. However, social tools can’t save uninspired products.

Simply having a Facebook page doesn’t create real excitement around your value proposition. As social strategists we should take the lead on helping businesses infuse their products with the ‘wow’ factor.

Do I believe that the social revolution has stalled?

Yes.

I also believe that we have exactly what we need to get our momentum back.

Am I being too harsh? Has social media lost its relevancy in your organization?

Contributing Columnist Stanford Smith obsesses about how to get passionate people’s blogs noticed and promoted at Pushing Social, except when he’s chasing large mouth bass.

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