I sat on a panel at SUPERCOMM's Digital Media Forum in Chicago on Friday called, "Redefining Social Media." (Eric Forst of Visible Technologies and Edward Moran of Deloitte & Touche spoke with me, ably moderated by Patty Brown of The Content Strategy Group.) The name of the panel initially threw me, because it feels like anything old enough to be redefined seems a bit passé, which social media most decidedly is not. But I think there is a point to be made about social media and how it is maturing.

My boss Rob Key at Converseon likes to say that "All media is social." To me, that captures what redefining social media is about--in a few years, we won't need to talk about "social" media anymore because we'll have made the adjustment to what media has become, a jumping off point for interaction, for conversation, and for community.

"Are we there yet?" Much like a vacation with the kids, the ride sometimes seems interminable as we wait for social media to "take off." In fact, my belief is that the real change we are experiencing right now is not in social media itself, but rather in how businesses are beginning to use it. Where a year ago businesses were "looking at" social media as a possible focus area, now they are at least testing the water, if not jumping in with both feet.

The down economy, while painful for many of us in so many ways, has actually accelerated the use of social media, because we can't afford to keep shelling out for the old ways of doing things. While large companies are shutting down TV budgets, small companies are experimenting with online video, blogs, and Twitter, because they are realizing that the full-page Yellow Pages ad doesn't work the way it used to.

So, to me, redefining social media is more about the willingness of so many businesses, large and small, to give it a try. When times are tough, everything is re-examined and what seemed risky is suddenly less scary than the prospect of revenue shortfalls. The fear of trying new things, or of being wrong, or of making a mistake withers in the face of the fear of losing your business.

So, if you haven't yet stuck a toe in the social media waters, promise yourself to do it now. Not every business needs online videos, or blogs, or Twitter, but very few wouldn't benefit from at least one of them. Examine what you are good at, identify the online neighborhoods where your customers hang out, and make adecision to at least start visiting those neighborhoods, if only to listen. Then, after you get a bit more comfortable, decide how you'd like to join the conversation and engage.

Your business won't fall over dead if you continue to sit on the social media sidelines, but it probably won't grow as quickly, either. Social media usually costs little more than an investment of your time, so what is the harm of trying it out? If it doesn't seem to be helping, you can always stop. Perhaps the big risk isn't trying social media, but rather not trying it.

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October 26, 2009

Mike is an expert in search marketing, search technology, social media, publishing, text analytics, and web metrics, who regularly makes speaking appearances.

Mike's previous appearances include Text Analytics World, Rutgers Business School, SEMRush webinar, ClickZ Live.

Mike also founded and writes for Biznology, is the co-author of Outside-In Marketing (with James Mathewson) and the best-selling Search Engine Marketing, Inc. (now in its 3rd edition, and sole author of Do It Wrong Quickly, named by the Miami Herald as one of the 11 best business books of 2007.


Love it. I was unsuccessfully trying to use twitter as a human filtered RSS reader but it just doesn't scale well. Love the tip on following a few people and also love the tip about setting up distinct rooms.

Your last paragraph does a great job at summing up the main reason why every business, small or large, should enter the world of social media. If you don't reach out and listen to your customers / prospective customers through social media, there is no chance you will grow as quickly as a competitor who is taking this step.

A good post and good advice, Mike....it was a pleasure being on the panel with you last week. It's definitely important to listen and learn before you engage!

Thanks, Eric. It was great to meet you, too.

I think your article was one of the stronger guides for people hesitant about the social media space. I know that in traditional journalism, where I started, there was a lot of nervousness about social media when it really just takes some informed looking around until being able to identify what's most useful to try. I think businesses, in general, get 'cranky' about social media and assume it's strictly youth-based and complicated when it really is more about function and community. It's absolutely worth checking out and seeing what works best for you. Once people start engaging with you and offering feedback, it becomes invigorating.

I completely agree with the change that we are experiencing with social media in that social media isn't changing much but we are evolving as we see how we can better use it in a way that is engaging but also makes sense for our businesses.

I completely agree. There is no reason for a large or small company not to give social media a try. I also agree that traditional marketing just doesn't work the way it used to. Traditional marketing is much more expensive and time consuming than the virtually free (besides the time aspect) social media marketing. Now more than ever businesses need to be looking out for new and more efficient ways of marketing their goods and services. The internet and social media are creating new and inexpensive ways to market yourself, and passing these opportunities up will lower your competitive advantage.

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