I'm supposed to be on vacation, but such is often the case with me, I didn't fully disconnect from Twitter and wound up with a thought process I felt compelled to blog. So here I am.
Clearly, given the nature of this blog itself, I'm a proponent of social media for business. However, I'm an enterprise technology girl first and I'm the first to point out the many risks of large businesses plunging themselves headfirst into the latest trend to arise out of the Silicon Valley bubble. I've consistently had three big concerns:
Too many non-enterprise consultants are trying to drive enterprises to social media
Case in point: Two days ago I had a thought-provoking exchange with Mack Collier, who I consider to be a friend. Like with many of my friends, I often have constructive, educational debates as I learn such a great deal. This debate started with a blog post Collier published about "how I got a gazillion blog subscribers and Twitter followers." Overall, it's an interesting piece, but our subsequent Twitter conversation left me a little... lacking. At one point, Collier said that he believes Twitter follower numbers can indicate level of influence (though only one consideration). He went on to imply that it's often the delta between followers and "followees" that can indicate level of influence. Of course, I giggled and pointed out that Guy Kawasaki follows more people who follow him and asked the rhetorical question, "Is he not an influencer?"
Giggles aside, this is no laughing matter. These are hard times and we have businesses making critical decisions to stay afloat. At the same time we have social media marketers and software developers breathing down these decision-makers necks saying that social media can help them save money and improve their sales. In some cases, this is true. Social media presence could help some companies during this time (more consumer than enterprise, in my humble opinion). On both sides of the coin, however, it depends on the company. Those company leaders will then have to determine who to trust to help them lead this social media charge, and it's my estimation that trusting someone to help you because of a Twitter follower count or blog subscriber list is a gigantic mistake. Otherwise, wouldn't we all turn to Loren Feldman or iJustine for business guidance?
There are all kinds of reasons why a person might rise to online popularity. He or she may be a fantastic business person, or simply very funny, or endearing and attractive in some way. He or she might know how to leverage whatever strengths he or she possess to rise to the top, and that may be good or bad. Online popularity can be an example of someone who is a true thought leader and is changing the face of business -- I'll use everyone's favorite example of Chris Brogan for this one. But not everyone can be an influencer and not everyone can significantly shift the landscape. We can contribute and we could do great work and we can become popular. But that does not mean that we are all suited to lead a business to success. There is a huge difference between the skills it takes to build a personal presence and what it takes to grow a company's strategy. Some might say "marketing is marketing" or "promotion is promotion" but that's just wrong. It all comes down to what you are marketing and the end-all, be-all objectives.
If you're a company leader who is trying to determine who to read and who to follow and who to potentially hire to guide your business to social media success, please consider the fundamental principles of good business decision-making. Don't get swayed by the smoke and mirrors and meaningless statistics (fact: many Twitter followers are bots). If you're looking at potential consultants, ask yourself the following:
Does he or she have a proven track record of leading a company to success?
Do the companies or organizations that he or she have worked with have any common themes with yours?
What are the challenges that he or she might've had to overcome with this brand or company?
If this person is truly being dubbed a thought leader, what original thoughts has he or she had?
Moreover, have these thoughts turned into any meaningful application or execution?
Now, again, I don't entirely disagree with Collier's post, as he is a thought leader in his own right. I also love the fact that he encourages people to not just follow the perceived "A-listers." I also think he makes good points and he calls out examples of actual rising stars. This also doesn't mean that I don't appreciate my own Twitter network. This isn't about them or me -- this is an issue of what's broken in social media overall. I merely disagree with the idea that a Twitter follower count should be a measure of success. While things like The Shorty Awards and Twitter Grader and such are in good fun, they aren't indicators of who is going to be the next scene shifter when it comes to social media and business. Let's not let the fluffy side of social media dictate our more serious business decisions.
Clarification 12/28/08 10:27 a.m. Collier indicates that he believes Twitter followers are only one aspect of determining influence. Unfortunately, many social media folks have made the "only" statement in the past. My point that it should be a very, very small consideration for enterprises still stands.