Face the facts: 5 social media truths that are hard to admit

social media truths

By Mark Schaefer

I’m a practical person and sometimes the conventional wisdom of the web seems to run counter to reality. Or sometimes the reality of the social web is just so bizarre that it’s hard to admit! In any event, as I have been thinking about this, here are some facts about the social web that are kind of icky, but true.

1. Numbers matter

A few months ago, this is how I was introduced at a conference: “Please welcome our keynote speaker Mark Schaefer. He is the author of “The Content Code,” has 150,000 Twitter followers and a Klout score of 75.”

Doesn’t matter what I do on my job. Doesn’t matter what I blog about. Doesn’t matter what I do at the university, with my family or in my community. I have a lot of Twitter followers … That’s the highlight I suppose. Generally, the numbers make an impression on people and instantly establishes some semblance of authority.

In our information-dense world, people are hungry for these numerical shortcuts — clues about what to do, what to read and who to follow. Numbers like Facebook Likes, and followers matter because it provides “social proof” about your validity. In the long-term, I do believe true expertise and authority win out, but in the short-term, numbers make a difference as weird as that may sound.

2. Content marketing is an arms race

Here’s a dirty little fact we don’t talk about much in this business. To win the SEO game with content (at least right now), you don’t have to be the best company or have the best content. You just have to be first and overwhelming in the niche.

Quantity often does matter. I do believe that in the end quality and integrity will be rewarded, but for the foreseeable future, pumping out more content than the other guy can still work under the right circumstances (as BuzzSumo research tells us).

3. Not every business needs to have a strong social media presence

I’m sure this fact will raise some eyebrows but let’s look at reality.

I like and respect my friend Eric Qualman but there is a slide in his excellent Social Media Revolution videos that drives me nuts. It says: “The ROI of social media is that your business will exist in five years.”

Since the first version of this video appeared well over five years ago, we should be experiencing the social media version of a business apocalypse by now. And we aren’t. In fact, if you look over the business landscape, very few businesses actually have an effective social media strategy (which is different that “having a Facebook page.”)

Through my teaching, consulting and public speaking, I interact with hundreds of different companies and 90 percent of them do not have an effective or significant social media presence. While the social media gurus are breathlessly pontificating “apocalypse” the free market is speaking and it is saying “meh.”

I do think there is a case for most businesses to have at least some social media presence … but you know, for some businesses, coupons and direct mail still work!

We have to remember that social media is just one tool in the bag.

4. Social media success might require retirements

The biggest roadblock to social media success is “company culture.” Changing a company culture is like changing your personality. Let’s say you are a life-long New York Yankees fan and I want to convince you to cheer for the Boston Red Sox. Will that ever happen? Probably not, even if I told you your job depended on it.

I’ve conducted social media workshops for many companies and it only seems to sink-in if the leader of the organization is all-in on and tirelessly drives this dramatic cultural shift. If he or she is just giving lip service and hiring me to be politically correct, chances are the person will have to retire before anything meaningful gets done.

I’m not saying people can’t change, but many business leaders have been conditioned for decades to do business in one way. And no matter how many times they hear about how great the Red Sox might be, they just can’t cheer for another team.

5. Nobody really wants you to be authentic

“Authenticity” is by far the most over-used and abused word on the social web. The most common definition of “authentic” is “true and accurate.” If I was presenting a true and accurate version of myself right now I would say that I am a bit gassy after that Mexican food at lunch.

Nobody wants to know that stuff and nobody wants to talk about it either. Whether you’re a person or a brand, you are always presenting a shiny idealized version of your authentic self. It has always been this way and it will always remain this way.

Nobody is authentic, but you can be kind and honest. There is a difference.

Well, there you have it. I’m sure many of you will take exception with what I’ve written here and I welcome you comments. Just make sure they’re authentic : )

Mark Schaefer is the chief blogger for this site, executive director of Schaefer Marketing Solutions, and the author of several best-selling digital marketing books. He is an acclaimed keynote speaker, college educator, and business consultant.  The Marketing Companion podcast is among the top business podcasts in the world.  Contact Mark to have him speak to your company event or conference soon.

Illustration: Face trapped in the bronze plinth of the statue of Queen Victoria by Alfred Gilbert, 1903, near the cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne. Courtesy Flickr CC and Kloniwotski.

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