The problem with so many businesses on social media sites

Jack Blog

July 20th, 2011 By Jack Morton

It seems to me like there have been several distinct phases in the development of social media where I have said to myself “Why are they joining?” The first wave occurred when you no longer needed a “.edu” e-mail in order to sign up for Facebook, and millions of high schoolers swarmed the site like newly-turned twenty-one-year-olds at a bar. Then came the influx of users like my mom who, having seen a special about Facebook on 20/20 or something, decided they’d give it a shot (she keeps trying to friend me, I keep ignoring the request). THEN came parents’ shadow accounts for their little kids (who probably don’t even operate computers) and dogs and cats (they definitely don’t operate computers).

The most recent newcomers to Facebook and other social media sites, however, were the strangest to me, at first, since they are not people (or pets): companies and brands. Within the last year or two, more and more businesses have attempted to integrate themselves into the social networking sphere. Some use it effectively (news media, the film industry), but most fail. Why? Because they hardly understand why the average user signs onto their Facebook account, and certainly do not understand how they must tailor their advertising to the new environment.

Facebook, contrary to what it seems many companies think, is not just a more ubiquitous form of billboarding, with which you can communicate in a business-to-consumer fashion. It is not enough to just make a Facebook page or a Twitter feed for a business and hope that people will click on the link and look at the site and then buy the product. In order to use Facebook as an effective means of communication, the information being put out must be conducive to interaction and “sharing.”  It’s like when my grandma bought a cellphone and carried it around all the time, but never kept it turned on, not understanding the fact that a major advantage to having a cell phone is that people can call you even when you are not in your home. In these scenarios where the attempt to use social media fails, the business usually has signed up simply because everyone around them is signing up and saying “Man, these days your place needs to have a twitter or you’re done.” In a rush to get on the web like everyone else, they have forgotten what makes social media unique — the whole reason social media CAN be so effective: its ability to connect people around particular ideas, stories, and products.

I can’t count how many times I’ve passed a pizza place or furniture store or hotel with the little “f” or “t” logo, or seen a sign along the lines of “Follow Hooda’s Felafel Stand on Facebook and Twitter.” But, since I rarely see examples of engaging use of social media by businesses, I just think “Why would I want to do that?”