Four years ago Twitter was just an infant, and it was a fairly new thing for anyone to be able to sign up for Facebook besides college students. MySpace was still relevant and services like Instagram, Pinterest and Foursquare were simply ideas… maybe. Four years really isn’t that long of a time. It takes a traditional student four years to graduate college so in a sense we are talking about a shift in tools used to market to THIS graduating class.
You can look any number of places to find “social media experts” or social media tools to help you leverage this “new” marketing channel. I’ve argued for years that social media isn’t some new shiny idea; it is the oldest form of marketing. Social media is when we communicate with friends and people we trust and occasionally ask them for advice. We look up thought leaders or experts in a field and now we feel more connected to them than ever, but we are still mostly just listening to them. Has our society gotten our heads so glued to a computer or phone screen that we are missing out on the physical social interactions around us?
Social Media the Fad
We have written so much content on this blog about social media that it is the second most used category, behind marketing. Where does it all take us though? Facebook and LinkedIn are publically trading companies with sky high evaluations and they supposedly “connect the world.” I’m on those sites just like everyone one of you. Is social media a fad? I think in its current iteration it most definitely is and let me tell you why.
On Twitter it is possible to follow thousands or many more people. On Facebook the average user has 245 friends and we all know people who have MANY more than that. I’m going to call myself out for a second. I’m a fairly networked person and I have 777 friends on Facebook (look how lucky I am), I am following 713 on Twitter and have over 1,000 connections on LinkedIn. I’ll be honest with you though, not only can I not keep up with all those people but it would drive me crazy to try. I have noticed personally that the majority of my time still spent on social channels is in private Facebook groups. It is a very specific and cut down group of people that I care deeply about and can actually manage. I have gotten burned out trying to keep up with Twitter feeds or Facebook walls on a regular basis. To be honest I quit using an RSS reader to consume 100+ articles a day over two years ago. I subscribe by email to the sites I really care about. It’s funny how that has also come full circle for me.
Have you read Malcom Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point or are you familiar with Dunbar’s number? Dunbar’s number is a suggested cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. That last sentence was taken directly from Wikipedia. Dunbar’s number is commonly accepted as 150. We have these huge online networks of friends and followers and from thousands of years of human society analysis, history has shown us that anything larger than approximately 150 is mentally unsustainable and ultimately destructive. I don’t care how great the technology and online tools are, things start to fall apart past that point. I feel confident in saying over the next four years we will see this land grab for friends and followers turned around. People will begin to shrink their networks into what and who is truly important to them.
What Happened To The Value Of Content?
I think my biggest problem with social media gurus and the whole fad is how it has undermined the value of content. People share articles that they don’t even read because it’s cool. We post pictures all over Instagram because we are all too busy or lazy to read something. Don’t get me wrong, a picture is still worth 1,000 words but it does not replace words. I think that great content still finds its way to the top of social sharing but for humans it is practically impossible to wade through all the garbage being produced today.
Back to marketing a school, I worry that we have put so much emphasis on social media that we are failing in creating remarkable content and storytelling. You see if you create remarkable content and tell great stories then people will want to share it. That is one of the holy truths of great marketing. I also don’t believe that social media solves the problem of a strong lead generation or recruitment pipeline. Just because you are talking to thousands of people on Facebook it doesn’t mean that you have made it any easier for them to navigate your school’s website or complete the application process.
I want to end this simply asking have we put social media on the pedestal and lost our focus on the goal? I wrote way back in 2008 that Social Media comes last and I still stand by that. You see, social is one small piece of a solid inbound marketing playbook. If you don’t have the rest of your foundation and marketing together you will still fail in social media. Facebook, Twitter and the gang might not be here in another four years, but I can guarantee you that excellent content will still matter. If you are struggling with recruiting, making your institution relevant or even maximizing your website presence, don’t put social media on top because that won’t fix your core problems. After all just because you put lipstick on a pig doesn’t take away from the fact that you still have a pig.
Photo Credit: spiral stairs looking down by *vlad*