My doctoral research into social media has thrown many curve balls. The predominant focus of these issues have been definitional problems with the interlinked terms (love them or hate them) of Web 2.0, social media and user generated content. Literature and understanding is fragmented, lacks consistency and the language used is flowery and based on psychological drivers.
Now I'm sure you have all been met with similar issues, or maybe not? I was reminded of this struggle in a couple of recent conversations. Subsequently I have come to think that accessibility is a big problem in the acceptance of social media as a business tool.
What I mean by accessibility is that the language used in defining or discussing social media is beyond the scope of those looking to adopt social media practices. They simply cannot understand what social media is about because the language used is beyond their understanding.
Social media brings about a new way of doing business. It brings a new type of customer with different needs, skills and a desire to interact with technology. The question is, are we failing businesses because we cannot easily explain social media and its benefits to business?
I'm Scottish. In Scotland it was reported that 80% of small businesses do not see the need for social media practices. They do not see the value in social media. In fact the UK newspaper The Scotsman reported that many Scottish businesses see social media as a 'waste of time'.
Scotland is not alone; this is a huge global debate. We can argue the ROI of social media forever. It does not take away from the fact that the ROI of social media will manifest in different ways for every business.
I know from research that a statistical model can accurately predict box office sales from movie reviews, that social media can create loyalty, and by filtering social content businesses can accurately measure brand equity and grow business.
The trouble is that many business owners cannot understand these benefits because they are far removed from traditional business and we cannot pitch the basics at a level they understand.
Accessibility is the dividing gulf of social media. It may be the reason why many feel they can call themselves 'experts'. But does understanding the language make us experts? I would say no.
We need to make social media more accessible to the masses to show who the real experts are. So, how can we do this?
- Develop definitions that are easy to understand. We always start to learn more about a topic when we understand the definition. Social media is often confused or substituted with Web 2.0 and user generated content. In reality they are all different things.
- Be clear that social media is not an instant fix. In many ways social media can highlight any issues with a brand or business more clearly. You need to make a realistic strategy.
- Be clear that social media takes time. During strategy development you need to be clear that social media is time and resource intensive. We no longer live in the world where you build it and they will come.
- Be clear that the ROI of social media will come in many ways. We have a tendency to use case studies, good case studies and bad case studies. If you use case studies to help aid understanding you may give clients ideas on possible outcomes and ROI. Will these be realistic to your client?
In my own research I am developing encompassing definitions of Web 2.0, social media and user generated content. It would be great to hear your definitions and your thoughts on how we can make social media more accessible.