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Internet Marketing and Web Development in Higher Education and other tidbits…

Have We Put Social Media On A Pedestal?

17 Dec 2012

written by Kyle James

Have We Put Social Media On A Pedestal?

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*

The content of this post is licensed: The post is released under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa 3.0 license

About the author

Kyle James

Kyle is the CEO & Co-Founder at nuCloud and formerly the webmaster at Wofford College. He also spent almost 4 years at HubSpot doing a range of jobs including inbound marketing consulting, sales, management, and product management.  Kyle is an active contributor in the social media spectrum. Although his background is technical, he claims to know a thing or two about marketing, but mostly that revolves around SEO, analytics, blogging, and social media. He has spoken at multiple national conferences and done countless webinars on topics ranging from e-mail marketing to social media and Web analytics. He's definitely a fairly nice guy.

Ways to Connect with Kyle

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This post was written by - who has written 274 posts on .eduGuru

  • Bryan Alexander

    A friend of mine one remarked, acidly: “Facebook is social media for people who don’t have content.”

    Good post. I suspect the broad dislike of blogs plays into this, along with the neglect of podcasts.

    • Kyle James

      Bryan – I actually love blogs, why would have I have been writing this one for almost five years, and have a couple of podcasts that I listen to religiously. I think maybe you misunderstood me on that piece. I was more commenting on the fact that when you have been reading and engaging in these conversations as long as I have that so much of it is repetitive to the point where it’s uninteresting and unimaginative.

      • Bryan Alexander

        Not at all, Kyle. I was referring to the dislike of blogs from *other* people, in academia and pop culture. I’ve been reading your blog for a while. :)

      • Kyle James

        Thanks. Yeah I don’t know what the deal w/ blogs has become. I’ve also noticed over the years that commenting and actually engaging in conversations, like this one, has become a thing of the past. Guess they are all commenting all over Facebook?

      • Bryan Alexander

        Yes, or through other venues: Twitter, LinkedIn, G+.
        The dislike of blogs… it took, and takes, many forms.
        Blogs are male. I still hear this, as crazy as it sounds.
        Blogs are only about political opinions. “”"”"”"”"”
        Blogs are dead. Tech journalists love this.
        Blogs are about unimportant subjects.

        Podcasts are a different matter. People don’t hate ‘em. But they prefer video, which isn’t always better. Podcasts are also invisible, buried a few tabs down in iTunes, unless the authors blog.

      • bcroke

        I find it ironic that all the social media guru’s in higher ed stopped engaging in relevant conversations online. We gave up asking important questions, we gave up looking for results, and now every other institution is following suite from the “thought leaders” who started promoting the social media hype cycle.

        We’re all here now, but where are we going?

      • Bryan Alexander

        Not all of us. Jim Groom, Alan Levine come to mind.

        Where next… good question. For one, we’re watching the battle over anti-Web strategies, like mobile device apps. For another, we’re seeing the continued move of social media away from the US.

  • Karine Henriquez

    I don’t think we have put social media on a pedestal. I
    believe that we honestly have not found a way to balance social media in our
    lives. For many people social
    media has evolved to where they now assume a virtual personality and are
    constantly connected, going back and forth between screens from Facebook to LinkedIn
    to twitter to Instagram and all the various chats these mediums hold. Social
    Media is not on a pedestal, what’s on a pedestal is the promise of attention it
    brings when we submit a post and/or a picture and the flow of likes and positive
    comments stream in.

    Most children who have been born in the past decade or two
    have known nothing else but technology; it’s almost like the modern version of
    an umbilical cord however this one never disconnects because the technological
    life force is needed. You have the people born in the 70’s and 80’s who
    remember life with out smart phones and laptops and were able to function just
    fine, now we have this new toy and its almost like Ok- what do I do with this
    now? We don’t need it, however it is there and becoming a major part of life.

    People need to take social media for what it is, it’s
    networking capability, and quick access to information then disconnect every so
    often because there is not a need to be connected all the time, doing so will
    make you become robotic and lose sense of reality.

    Bringing up Dunbar’s number I would have to say seems
    somewhat an accurate measure considering and factoring everyone you actually
    deal with on a daily basis. My number may be a little less than that and with
    my busy schedule I find it hard to keep up with even a handful of my closest
    friends. I can recall on a time I was trying to keep up with social media. Not
    only did it feel like a full time job with over time, but also I began to feel
    anxiety in me arise while trying to constantly keep track of all my friends
    while updating my status and reading every piece of material that floated my
    way. In the middle of this madness I still had to cook, clean, care for my kids,
    work and go to school. A breakdown was on the verge. So what did I decide to do?Take social media off the pedestal and reclaim my spot while finding a balancebetween this social networking digital world and the real world.

  • amir

    Interesting and informative! Honestly, I unconsciously use Twitter to know what are some of the most recent events. With numerous active users logged in, it is a good source of information

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