Top 5 social media theories

Originally posted on Nov. 5, 2010 on the Olson Communications company blog. Republished with permission. See original post here, and follow Olson Communication on Twitter: @olson_comm

Approximately 100 percent* of people on Twitter are “social media experts.” Want proof? Click here.

With so much expertise to go around, I’ve modestly compiled the top 5 schools of thought about social media.

1) Social media is a fad/overrated. This view is espoused by my old college roommate, and Malcolm Gladwell, who convincingly wrote in The New Yorker why “The revolution will not be tweeted.” Gladwell’s argument, in a nutshell, says that social media makes it easy for people to participate in a movement, so they participate in higher numbers — but that participation doesn’t necessarily equate to real change or real money. One of Gladwell’s strongest points was that the much-publicized hype about Twitter improving Iranian democracy amounted to bogus-ness (how could English tweets help Iranian elections when the language there is Farsi?).  Maybe Gladwell has a point about social media and political participation. But for the business side of social media, here’s the much-Tweeted “34 case studies that prove social media ROI.”

2) Social media is going to improve corporate and government transparency. Thanks to the wide-ranging conversation taking place all over the place, this theory says it’s going to be difficult — if not impossible — for companies, agencies and personalities to hide all their dirty laundry. The news will spread much easier on social networks. Here’s a source for the government side of that claim. To be fair and balanced here, Frank Rich of the New York Times thinks this is garbage.

3) Social media is going to make partying job-friendly. The bottom line is that our personal lives are more public than ever before – so theoretically, a future American president or Fortune 500 CEO could be tagged somewhere on Facebook right now doing a kegstand or pulling a Michael Phelps, right? For now, that kind of documented behavior could get you fired. There’s the line of thought that as this generation hits the workforce, hiring managers and the general public will grow numb to this kind of behavior.

4) Social media is going to simultaneously render standard PR and journalism obsolete. This theory is a cross between logical thinking and Chicken Little’s claim that the sky is falling, all because social media is such a revolutionary shift from conventional communication. Obviously, social media changes the game for PR and journalism. Bottom line: social media is a great tool in the toolbox, but standard rules apply.

5) Social media is going to make us all rich. There are two big schools of thought for this one. No. 1 is that we’ll figure out exactly what works in social media, and it will stop sounding like alchemy. Think tech giant Cisco saving $100,000 on a product launch using social media (let’s just do that all the time!). No. 2 is that yes, social media makes companies profitable, and it’s a necessity – but no one knows how or why because it’s so hard to track, even if everyone has a theory. In the mean time, one global survey says 35 percent of American businesses have used social media to win new business,


Editor’s note: Matt Culbertson is an intern at Olson Communications. Follow him on Twitter: @mattculbertson


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