The “why” of Social Media

19th C. American Community
19th C. American Community

A few years ago the name ‘social media’ was attached to things humans have been doing since living in caves: creating allegiances, or communities of similarity. Motivations for them were defense (picture “forts”), proximity (often called neighborhoods), convenience (babysitting cooperatives, carpools, time shares, etc.), or like interests (wine tasting and book clubs, sports teams, alumni organizations, and so many more). Communication within these communities adapted with the times. Grunts evolved to language, mud on cave walls became chisels on stone, ink on paper went to print, then going electronic with bulletin boards on dial-up services in the late 1980’s and much of the 90’s. The first inkling of what was to come was the launch of Web in the late 90’s. For nearly ten years electronic communication was constrained to relationships known through limited “word of mouth” capabilities. Awareness and growth of “online communities” was dependent on (offline) user group meetings or the chance mention in the only electronic conversation media available—email—limited then because we could count on two hands the number of people we knew with email addresses.

The Need For Networks

But that was then and this is a vastly different today. With the advent of online tools to capture profile information less than 10 years ago, then more tools to analyze that profile data to find the connections between people, a whole new path opened up for mankind. Just in time. As we are just now beginning to realize, subtle but dramatic changes in those same years were bringing the world toward a global economy unlike any we have seen in our limited lifetimes. And with the dawning irrelevance of familiar financial and economic models we are seeing more than ever the nation of free agents that Daniel Pink predicted, for large corporations cannot survive keeping a full complement of staff on salary to react any and all contingencies. Frameworks will remain—sales, marketing, infrastructure, and a relatively small senior management—but staff composition will fluctuate with the demand generated by that framework.

Your First Networking Tools

Enter social media. As with any other product, sales are directly affected by exposure to those who need the product. You are a product; we all are products. And there is competition in the marketplace that buys products like you. In order to be ‘purchased’ we must know who our audiences are, what they need, and then we must get good at making the buyers in those audiences aware that you are the answer to one or more of their needs. If someone was looking for what you do, what keywords would they use to find you in Google? Would you be there? How many ways could they find out what you do and whether or not you can help them? If you are feeling overwhelmed just trying to understand those questions, stop! This is where social media is your best friend. Two tools you need to learn about and utilize are LinkedIn and Facebook. I know these names are not new to you, but I am willing to bet you have strong feelings about one or both of them and they are less than positive for at least one. I recommend you get over it soon.

Overcoming Objections

Those preconceived notions may be holding you back from some of the most exciting opportunities you could ever imagine. I hear your objections already:

  • I don’t have time
  • That’s for kids
  • I’m retired, why should I do that?
  • This is not going to help me pay the bills
  • I will, but it’s not a priority

Time I hear these every day, often from people who should not be saying them – because they are in the marketing business! I addressed the time issue in a recent seminar called Social Media Jungle: Boston and others have told me that helped them realize the value of investing some of the same 24-hour day we all have to get some points of presence on the Web pointing toward them (instead of some other ‘product’ who does what they do). So take 15 minutes to watch that.

Youth Nothing about LinkedIn or Facebook is age restrictive any more. When companies of all sizes are advertising products attractive to all ages on a platform such as Facebook, that should tell you this is not just for younger generations. When the President of the United States is being petitioned on Facebook because he has made it known that he and his staff are listening to what Americans have to say on Facebook and LinkedIn, that should indicate a degree of value that transcends knowing what your college roommate from 20 years ago looks like now, much less when they are going on vacation.

Retired As I wrote to a cousin of mine who asked why he should be on LinkedIn if he has been retired for a few years, “Two good reasons to be on LinkedIn as a retiree: 1) People | For the introductions you could facilitate with the people who you know, and 2) History | For the help you might be able to offer others, sharing your perspective and experience.”

Return Remember, the best product out there will be broke if no one knows they exist. And if you hear, “but I have a good job,” coming out of someone’s lips—or even worse, your lips—then do it for the chance that you may need it in the future (and the odds are getting better every day you will need it). Setting up profiles on LinkedIn and Facebook and then building networks (‘connections’ and ‘friends,’ respectively) is just smart product management. Even if you are totally happy where you are and doing what you do, it makes sense to establish a record for those mysterious “spiders” that search engines use to catalog all that is on the Web. Who knows, maybe you just haven’t thought of something better and someone else has who would enjoy sharing the benefits of that idea with you! My suggestion is to read any of the many postings on how to put LinkedIn to good use and get your nets in the water. You can always say, “No, but thanks.”

Priority Life is all about priorities. It’s how we manage our time, constantly evaluating “what’s important now?” consciously or unconsciously throughout each day. Knowing that few of us are walking around with little or nothing to do, it is understandable that devoting time to something new with little apparent benefit would be forever relegated to the bottom of the “To Do” list. Some of you have started a Facebook profile because one too many friends mentioned that they had set one up. Maybe some of you started a LinkedIn profile with 2 connections years ago because you read about it somewhere and the intrigue was enough to create the page, but never enough since to maintain it. Consider this. Can you imagine it important enough momentarily to make it a NOW priority to get a profile started on each? And then can you devote a set period each week or a set amount of time every other day to maintain it? Even if only to peruse other people’s profiles to see what they are doing? You never know, you might find you like growing your networks, helping other people, asking for help and getting it – or any of the other benefits of communication in the age we live in.

In Closing

My wish for you is that these thoughts have provided an on-ramp to social media for you. LinkedIn and Facebook are the most mainstream of the SM tools – there are many more. But they are powerful! Do not sell them short for their ability to help you build large and responsive communities. Even if you never ventured further, you will find a search for your name coming up in the first page of Google results almost immediately, that’s how influential these two tools are. If being found for what you do rather than who you are is crucial to your lifestyle and paying the bills for that lifestyle, then you will have to do more. For that, there is Mashable and hundreds of bloggers willing to help you build communities to accomplish what you want to do. Most of these resources far surpass my skills, but I am here for you as well. Please keep me posted on your progress.

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10 Replies to “The “why” of Social Media”

  1. There’s no mystery with the increasing complexity of our lives and the new levels of connectedness, that the masses and organizations, are adopting social networking as the new paradigm. But there will always be Luddites, and those set in their ways, unfortunately they won’t move until they’re enlightened or by necessity.

    My Dad is a good example. He’s been using a PC for as long as I have, going on 30 years, yet he still requires help for relatively simple tasks, and really won’t take the time to make those things tacit. With social networking, he can’t make a compelling case and there’s no necessity. So until he’s motivated, it’s a dead issue with him.

    Now younger people that aren’t retired and set in there ways, are finding social networking tools to be their life blood, and if they haven’t, then they soon will. The problem is that it’s so new, it takes a period of time for the use of these tools to mature. A lot like the telephone, TVs, the walkman, PDAs, then cell phones, now smart phones or multi-media communication devices. Starting from the telephone, which had the longest period before full adoption (pre 1900 to 1950s), each technology has taken a shorter and shorter amount of time to saturate. I suspect social networking tools are the killer apps on the killer device the communicator, they just haven’t peaked, and certainly haven’t matured. Give it a week or so.


  2. Stephen,

    Nice post! I think we are in the midst of integrating social media into what we have already been doing, and establishing new routines– that takes care of priorities.

    and of all your points, nothing sticks better than the need to nurture your network before you need it– how I wish I had written a post about that before the waves of layoffs hit many of our friends over the winter. Networking is not just for jobseekers.

    And to your first premise– I constantly seek the “old world” analogy to what many of these new tools do. I think you nailed it with that premise. We’re not accomplishing something new so much as doing it in new, more efficient, and often better ways.

    Thanks for laying out all these arguments


  3. Stephen –

    Thanks for the post, you hit some really good points! I would also say that it’s been very interesting to see the transformation in Facebook to being used more for business purposes. I get many requests these days from people in what I would call my professional network (even though some of them I’d also consider friends!). This solidifies your point further and highlights the possibilities one could gain in the realm as well.

    One other objection that many people have to these tools is privacy also. “But why would I put my information out there so publicly?” This is an area that needs some education, but something that we should all get over as well. There are clear ways you can protect any valuable piece of information about yourself on these networks, and it would be a little…well..silly if that were your reasoning.

    Great discussion point, looking forward to future comments.


  4. Stephen – great post. I really like the way you’ve tied the history of “social” (caves, neighborhoods, wine clubs, alumni organizations) to the current LinkedIn-and-Facebook-ization of the world. And I couldn’t agree more with the idea of proactively embracing these new technologies.

    I’ve been fortunate stay out ahead of my social networking i.e. I’ve not ever been caught in the “oops, I just lost my job so I guess I need to start networking” situation. Instead, I always try and keep the bank full by helping others find jobs, connect with business partners and fill open reqs. For this reason, if I do find myself in the unfortunate position of needing a job, I have hopefully paid it forward well enough to have a number of folks that would be willing to help me out.

    One additional thing I’d add to your well laid out thoughts above is that engaging in social can also help you drive awareness and leads within your business. Think of the LinkedIn and Facebook (and what the hell, I’ll add into the mix) as one big cocktail hour at a conference you’re attending. You’re likely talk about your family, hobbies, perspectives of the conference but it’s inevitable that work will come up. For this reason, it’s a nice way (without inappropriately pimping out your company) to drop virtual business cards in these social networks, AFTER you’ve already done your “get to know yous.”

    Again, really nice job on this post.

    Aaron | @aaronstrout


  5. Geat post Stephem (maybe i should add a blog post tonight?)
    How do I possibly add to what Doug, Kate and Aaron have already said?…

    I’ll use another metaphor which I’ve been using lately, and that is that social media is exactly that- social. It’s another level of relationships. And these relationships in my opinion, are the glue that holds social media together…Facebook, Linkedin and twitter are simply platforms to enable those type of relationships.

    Sure, they are new and foreign to some people, but to many,they are a wake to seek out, engage and begin dialogues with like-minded people…

    Doug, Kate an Aaron and YOU are great examples. I’ve met you/them exclusively through social media, and have been fortunate enough to meet them face to face, through (duh!) tools that have enabled tweetups, breakfasts, and the like.

    Great post- keep ’em coming.

    Tyson ..@goodridge


  6. Aaron’s comment reminded me of a book my brother-in-law recommended to me in 1989, “Rites of Passage” by John Lucht. I noticed that he has updated the book and added the tools of the Internet, so I will add it to my list of “to be read” again in order to see what he thinks of social media. But what impressed me the most when I read it, and I have used many times since in front of audiences from one to thousands teaching them networking, were his stories of executives that found themselves out of a job overnight with no warning—for reasons either they were responsible for or could not control—and who within a week were accepting offers for even bigger roles in other companies. Even after screwing up they were offered bigger jobs!

    The common secret was that they never stopped cultivating their networks. They never stopped having lunch or dinner meetings with new people more powerful and influential than they in order to conduct informational interviews, all the while creating indelible impressions on the people they were buying meals for. These executives were adding to their databases constantly and communicating with that network and asking how they could help and sending clippings and notes of congratulations when appropriate. What does that sound like? Sales, right?

    Lucht was recommending methods for the Free Agent world years before Dan Pink would call out the trend. As I just wrote in an email to a friend, “Learn how to promote yourself as a hot product now while you do not have to live by it. Because you cannot predict when you will.”


  7. Stephen – Great post! Seriously, you captured the essence of why everyone should embrace social media for their own personal brand.

    Lately I seem to spending a lot of time explaining to people how they could benefit from social media. Just today I got my wife and her sister talking about how cool it would be if they started using Twitter among their small group of friends to uncover opportunities for play dates, movies, etc. I actually saw the light bulb going off.

    I’m also a big advocate of everyone getting out from behind the corporate wall to start sharing what they know. Too many people still believe that a resume is going to be all they need to move onto their next job (as you suggest there’s a pretty good chance that’s coming). How much better positioned would they be for a transition if they’d already built a strong network of people interested in the knowledge they’re already sharing?

    I get a lot of heads nodding when I have this conversation, but they’re not quick to move. We all (and I’m talking to every person who’s commented on this post and all the other people who understand that the Cluetrain is already barreling down the track) need to help our friends and colleagues make the transition. We can just pontificate. We need to get in the trenches and help them.

    You may not have the time, there may not be a clear, near-term ROI and you may find it hard to prioritize getting your plumber up on WordPress, but give it a try. It’s your job.

    Jim | @jimstorer


  8. To expand upon Kate’s post, the business/corporate need is there, they just don’t know it yet! Everything Stephen touched on here describing “the need for networks” are the some topics that resonate “behind the firewall” within corporations. It just needs to be articulated in a way that clearly adds value, addresses the fears of privacy, ensures confidential information can be managed…and ensure it all just doesn’t become a big distraction for employees. (seems like the same concerns when email was first introduced…and now look at us, it’s not unusual for some of us to have our CEO on our Instant messaging buddies list)

    Right now I believe just the term “Social Media” still puts a lot of fear into the minds of most corporate clients. They still think “Facebook.”

    But as we get better about demonstrating the value in terms that resonates best in a business world it will serve to open up the floodgates. By better associating “Social Media” with themes such as collaboration, building networks, team building, knowledge sharing, increasing productivity, building loyalty, increasing satisfaction, (as opposed to “Facebook”) it will just be a matter of time before “Social Media” becomes as prevalent as email inside the corporate firewalls!


  9. Imagine a world where you never lose touch with friends, colleagues, or even family members.

    Imagine how powerful it might be if you could connect with people and organizations of interest to you with just a few keystrokes.

    Imagine how your business and/or career might change if geographical barriers no longer held any practical constraints.

    Imagine how your marketing results might improve if you could ensure that your message was seen by people by only those who have expressed an interest in what you have to sell.

    That is what social media tools like LinkedIn, Facebooka and Twitter etc.. bring to the table. Any reason why you shouldn’t get started today?


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