Friday, February 15, 2013

The Danger of Assumed Ubiquity in Social Media

I was talking to my graduate communication management class  earlier this week about deciding on if and how to use various communication technologies. A text we were discussing stressed the importance of weighing the difference between benefits  and costs  to determine the value of a communication technology.

One point I made to them was to beware of assuming that because something is popular with you and your friends, or seems to be getting a lot of buzz in the tech media, that it is the best medium to reach your intended publics, be they employees, customers, investors, B-to-B partners or others. I called this "the danger of assumed ubiquity." In other words, just because a bunch of public relations people are raving about the latest social media platform, don't assume that it is everywhere, that everyone uses it, or more importantly, that the specifically segmented public you want to reach (you DO segment your publics, right?) is using it.

The day after that class  met, Pew released a new study on the demographics of social media use by Americans. The study is useful to see  which platforms appeal to which demographics, such as gender, age, college  education, and race.

But what is also interesting is the fact that overall use of even the most popular and established social media sites is quite low as a percentage  of overall population. Two-thirds (67%) of Americans say  they have used Facebook, especially  women and the 18-29 age group. But other social media platforms are  not as popular as those of us who use them like to think:

  • Twitter -- 16%
  • Pinterest -- 15%
  • Instagram -- 13%
  • Tumblr -- 6%
Generally speaking, your tweet may often fall in the woods when no one is there. Also, keep in the mind that the study doesn't get into frequency or purpose of use. So we don't know how often this small minority  of people are using certain sites, or why they are there (i.e. are they just socializing with friends, or do they really follow brands?) I know from other studies that engaging with organizations via social media is happening, but the reality is there are not a lot of people there to begin with, they are not there often, and they don't go there to keep up with your company or nonprofit organization.

I still think PR pros absolutely have to have a social media presence, because the study shows upward  trend lines from 2010 to 2012 in use. But there are several lessons learned:

  • Don't use social media for mass reach, use it for interaction with specific segments;
  • Remember that social media supplements, and does not replace, other traditional forms of owned, earned, and paid media;
  • Your content has to be conversational, not promotional. Think engage, not just inform;
  • Keep monitoring for which platforms are growing, which are useful for your targeted public segments, and which are best for meeting your organizational objectives.
And of course, don't assume ubiquity of any medium.

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