Raising The Game In Social Media

I loved Amber Naslund's blog post today on Actions, Not Predictions. Predictions for next year are an engaging intellectual exercise, but a far more productive use of time is to write down what you're going to do about them. I wish I had the bandwidth for a lengthy list, but I did come up with three pretty good words, at least. Here are my three words for 2010--the three words that are going to shape my focus, the focus of this blog, and ultimately our (that includes you, dear reader) place in the conversation that is social media next year. Raise The Game.

Yesterday I read Steven Baker's piece on Social Media Snake Oil and his call for the legion of social media consultants to focus on results, not buzz. He's not wrong there. I don't think the nascent field of social media consulting is full of snake oil salespeople, per se--but it is full of people who have little experience outside of social media usage and enthusiasm. There is simply too much repudiation of metrics and measures and too great a reliance on a few increasingly long-in-the-tooth anecdotes of "successful" corporate social media usage.

But I believe in social media, not as a marketing tool, but as a transformational tool to ultimately make products, services and the companies that sell them more responsive to the needs, wants and desires of consumers. This transformation will spread from marketing and PR to HR, Sales, Finance and ultimately the executive suite, and will bring marketing as I learned it--anticipating needs to profitably delight the customer--back to being the central theory of the firm, and not just a promotional channel.

What I didn't like about Baker's article was the need to trot out a straw man to attack one of social media's most visible consultants (you'll spot it when you read it)--that sort of move is at best an intellectual shortcut. The fact that there aren't a lot of convincing case studies or real quantitative data on the effectiveness of social media doesn't mean that there won't be, and it doesn't invalidate the field. Seth Godin didn't have a lot of case studies when he pioneered permission marketing. The founders of Twitter didn't have a lot of case studies on microblogging. The fact that some of social media's early movers are going it on faith right now doesn't mean that they are wrong.

But--it doesn't mean they are right, either. David Armano responds to Baker with a look at life after snake oil, and I think he's exactly right. Eventually, it will all become integrated into what we call business. Not the holy grail, but not snake oil, either. To do that, social media consultants need to start truly embracing the measures and metrics that the C-Level requires to justify expending talent and treasure on social media efforts. This will actually serve to weed out those truly bad actors, and elevate those who truly do understand social media's place in the framework of commerce.

So, for 2010, this blog will turn more and more to raising the game--offering the tools, measures and metrics to integrate social media, and ultimately, I hope, helping the current practitioners of social media by challenging them constructively, not destructively, to raise their games as well. This includes a reboot of my link blog (DataSnob) and turning this blog into a greater resource for those interested in really figuring out not just if social media works, but why it works. I don't know the answer to that. I'm going to.

More on this in the coming weeks. Hope you'll come along.