Social Media's Chicken And Egg Problem

An article titled Research: Most social media marketing initiatives fail on New Media and Marketing states:

From the book The Social Organization the author states “One of our more striking discoveries is that most social media initiatives fail. Either they don’t attract any interest or they never create business value.” Why ? Because social media is not a tactic social media starts with a social organization focused on consumers and its customers.

[I think there’s a grammatical problem with the last sentence. I think there should be a period after the word tactic, and that the rest of the sentence is a new sentence]

My take: Hold on a second here. For the past two+ years, I’ve been reading left and right that: 1) The ROI of social media far exceeds the ROI of every thing else on this planet, or 2) The ROI of social media can’t be measured in just dollars and cents.

The explanation for why so many firms allegedly fail with social media is intriguing: That firms fail at social media because they’re not a “social organization” which the author defines as:

One that strategically applies mass collaboration to address significant business challenges and opportunities. Its leaders recognize that becoming a social enterprise is not about incremental improvement. They know it demands a new way of thinking, and so they’re moving beyond tactical, one-time grassroots efforts and pushing for greater business impact through a thoughtful, planned approach to applying social media. As a result, a social organization is able to be more agile, produce better outcomes, and even develop entirely new ways of operating that are only achievable through mobilizing the collective talent, energy, ideas, and efforts of communities.

When I first read this, I had a deja vu moment. Ah yes — substitute “knowledge-based organization” from the late 90s or “digital business” from the early 200s, and you realize that we’ve heard all this before.

My deja vu aside, I’ve also read — countless times over the past few years — that firms that don’t get into social media “will be left behind.” (Don’t make me find links, you know they’re out there).

So what should we conclude from all this?

  • That social media does indeed have a higher ROI, but only in a small number of instances, specifically those where the organization deploying social media has already become a social organization?
  • That a company that deploys social media will most likely fail in its social media attempts until it becomes a “social organization”?
  • That somehow a company should become a “social organization” BEFORE deploying social media in order to improve its odds of social media success?

If you’re a senior business executive feeling a bit confused by all this, join the club.

What this means is that — since social media is an imperative in today’s business environment (according to social media proponents), and that a firm must first become a social organization before achieving social media success (according to the author of the book) — business executives should take a leap of faith and radically change and transform their organizations before knowing if it’s the right thing for their organization.

And that is not going to happen in any well-managed, reasonably successful firm.

Social media gurus: It’s back to the drawing boards for you. And when you come back, please get your logic, rationale, and arguments straight.