Social Media Isn’t Dead, But It Can Be Deadly

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I love social media. And I love trying and testing new stuff. If there’s some new social media tool, website, or community, I’ll be one of the first ones to try it out.

But there is a limit. And I think we need to be careful. Because social media is like a drug. It can become dangerously addictive. It can even kill your business.

Social media seems to be the current fad. Everybody’s in on it like it’s one big cocktail party you just don’t want to leave.

But the way social media is currently being touted, hyped up, and used (or should I say, abused), is reminiscent of something that happened way back in the 90s.

(I’ll come back to this in a moment.)

Yesterday, I watched a brilliant video by Loren Feldman. Feldman has a tell-it-like-it-is style. While he may be blunt and use strong language to voice his opinion, he is never afraid to voice it. Regardless of what I think of his style, his video resonated with me.

In it, he drove home an important point. I believe what he talked about is not only right, but also something we need to realize and become wise about before we needlessly kill our businesses. And that’s ignoring the most important place on the web…

… Our own websites.

The premise is simple: social media may be cool and fun, and it may even be productive for some people. But don’t forget to take care of the one place — the only place — that really matters. And that’s your own website. Your blog. Your domain.

Lately, I’ve seen a lot of bloggers talk about the “death of blogging.”

Recently, A-list blogger Steve Rubel has moved away from blogging and converted his blog into a “lifestream” using social media platform Posterous. Some have indicated this is a sign that blogging is on its way out, while others like Brian Clark opposed the notion.

This isn’t anything new. When Twitter first began, Robert Scoble wrote a piece on the “Twitter threat” a few years back, as did Mashable and a slew of others.

First of all, blogging is certainly not dead. Or dying.

Remember that blogging is no different than a typical website. It’s simply a content management system (CMS). It’s just another content delivery platform.

Saying that blogging is dying is like saying that websites are dying. And since websites are an intrinsic part of the web, it’s like saying that the web itself is dying, which we all know that’s far from being the case. Evolving? Sure. But not dying.

My thoughts are, social media is attracting casual bloggers and, by the same token, making the blogosphere leaner and meaner. In my estimation, the quality of blogging has substantially increased since the introduction of micro-blogging platforms.

I submit that it’s because Twitter has forced hobby-bloggers and dabblers to migrate to Twitter. (Ditto with Facebook “walls,” FriendFeed, Posterous, and the like.)

Casual bloggers much prefer micro-blogging platforms because it’s less work. It’s an outlet for posting their meandering thoughts and senseless streams of consciousness, which is what they used to use their blogs for in the first place.

Those who have converted from blogging to micro-blogging are less inclined to blog regularly, with a purpose in mind, or for business. Social media is what it is: social. It’s a place to socialize, not one in which to do business — at least, not directly.

And it shouldn’t be.

I also submit that, if they wasted time blogging, micro-blogging will be no different and probably even more distracting, anyway. Which is probably what they really want.

So it will certainly attract those who blogged casually, for no other purpose than to waste time, make friends, or post gossip. It may have attracted those who used blogging simply as a means of publicizing their blather or being more visible.

(Feldman, in his video mentioned earlier, made a great point when he said social media thrive on people’s fears. The fear of being alone and not being heard. But I digress.)

Invariably, this exodus has opened up the floor to better bloggers and better blogs.

Aside from the fact that Twitter may have extracted casual, dabbling bloggers from the mainstream, there are other, possibly more important and practical reasons for this.

Maybe it’s because bloggers test more on Twitter before they put their content to a blog. Maybe they get real-time feedback on the quality of their content before they publish it. Or maybe Twitter has given bloggers the opportunity to post their less important stuff there, leaving their blogs for better, more purposeful communications.

Who knows?

But what I do know is that I’ve seen a jump in the quality of blogs and blog content in recent times. Whatever is left seems to have become stronger, tighter, better written, more compelling, and certainly more interesting than before. In my estimation, anyway.

However, as the Rudyard Kipling saying goes, “Never the twain shall meet.” By that I mean, blogging is definitely a part of the social media space. But I don’t think social media should be a part of — let alone replace — blogging.

I agree that social media is fragmenting. We saw this with the explosion in TV channels. But it’s becoming way too fragmented, especially in an age of convergence.

Fragmentation is normal. But just because media is becoming more fragmented doesn’t mean we need to fragment our marketing efforts — much less our content, too.

And to those who think they need to be on every social media “channel” in an effort to be in front of as many eyeballs as possible, think again.

For example, do you sell golf balls? Common wisdom dictates that you should advertise on the Golfing Channel. But just because TV is fragmented with over 500+ channels on every topic imaginable, it doesn’t mean you need to be on all of them.

Ditto with social media.

If you distribute your content, you still own your content. If it’s syndicated, it still comes from your own domain or blog. Or at least you should have control over it. And the reason is, you should have a way to own and/or control your traffic, as well.

But fragmentation doesn’t mean syndication.

It seems like the social space is becoming just one big mesh of various time-wasting social hangouts. Too many, in fact. Some do provide value. But I think we’re going to start seeing some of these fall by the wayside and weed themselves out.

And when they do, what will happen to your content, let alone the people who were (for the lack of a better word) “trained” to expect and consume your content on these sites?

The one I fear will suffer such a predicament is Twitter.

Sure, Twitter is extremely popular right now. But if Twitter doesn’t monetize itself soon, we will see it die, replaced, or overrun by another, newer social medium that has found a way to monetize itself. And believe me, it will happen if they don’t do something about it.

I’m not the only one who thinks that way. Here’s an interesting take on the topic by my friend and top Internet marketer Armand Morin. The issue, according to him, is that Twitter is not a destination. It’s a conduit — one that others can easily bypass.

In other words, you can use Twitter without using Twitter.com (I use TweetDeck, for instance). The problem, therefore, is that Twitter doesn’t own or control its traffic. The one asset they do have and may possibly monetize is the content they host.

Yes, that’s your content!

Similarly, with television commercials, you don’t run your business on TV. You reach people through TV. In the same way, you may run an online business but you still own your business — including your content, your traffic, and particularly, your brand.

If you advertise on TV, the TV station doesn’t own your products. If you buy some airtime to broadcast your show, they certainly can’t take it and do what they want with it. But social media websites have that capacity to some degree.

Don’t think I’m exaggerating. Remember the recent Facebook fine-print fiasco?

So in reality, social media is not really media like TV, radio, or even the Internet. They are more like channels on them. Even then, these stations don’t own your content, much less dictate how you distribute your content — and how others should consume it.

But social media can. And some do.

Admittedly, I like posting small bits of content on Twitter and Facebook. It’s no different than going to a social function. And I’ve tried FriendFeed, Ping.fm, LinkedIn, MySpace, and Posterous. (And many others, too.) But it all scares me somewhat.

Sure, posting a tidbit in one place and having it posted to multiple places at the same time is a great to spread your social authority, your brand, and your visibility. But at the same time, it has the power to dilute, diminish, and devalue them, too.

Admittedly, I’m guilty of this. I’m starting to see social creep in my own communications, which is why I need to stop, cut the excess fat, streamline my content, and focus.

I hate having too many places to post. I hate having “too many hands” on my content.

The problem with doing it this way is, it’s risky. If they ever die or get acquired, you’re screwed. Plus, it not only dilutes your value and your content, but also, to borrow an analogy, you run the risk of “catching something” along the way.

What I mean is, some of these sites may have terms that can potentially threaten the ownership, control, and integrity of your material. By using them you inadvertently may have given them the right to use, distribute, and modify your content as they see fit.

More importantly, it is a disservice to your audience.

Why? Because, for one, by trying to be on too many social websites, you are educating your market to consume your content in only these locations, particularly among all the white noise and clutter. Thus, you risk them missing out on your valuable content.

Second, you’re spreading yourself thin. If any of these websites die, change, move, or raise the barrier of entry along the way (such as by charging users a fee or inundating them with ads), who do you think they are going to be frustrated with?

These social sites? Try again.

So the key is focus, focus, focus.

Focus on your brand. Your content. Your traffic. Your audience.

Now, I admit Facebook is cool because I use it to connect with family and real friends (i.e., high school friends, long-distance cousins, old workplace colleagues, etc). And Twitter is fun. I love posting interesting links, websites I’ve seen, tips I encounter, etc.

But if content is king, then my blog is the castle!

Be the master of your own domain (yes, pun intended). For if you offer truly valuable content, people will find you. And the people who do find you are the people who count.

Now, earlier I said I’m starting to see something reminiscent of the 90s.

Here’s what I meant…

Social junkies are no different than affiliate junkies. You know what I’m talking about, right? Those garish-looking websites plastered with blinking affiliate banner ads in the hope that someone will click on them, buy, and make them money.

They are junkies in the truest sense of the word. Like an unquenchable drug addiction, they keep plastering junk ads on their websites in an effort to maximize clicks and sales. But how is that any different than free-for-all linkfarms? I’ve said this before…

Give people too many choices and they won’t make one.

In Internet marketing, they say it’s better to create, own, or sell your own products. You get higher profit margins, you have greater control over your marketing funnel, and you own your lists for optimal backend marketing. It’s the same with social media.

I’m not saying that affiliate marketing is wrong. Au contraire. There’s lots of money to be made in affiliate marketing, and I recommend it myself, particularly if you’re just starting out. Same thing with social media, too. I don’t think it’s wrong.

But being an affiliate junkie is highly ineffective. And so is being a social media junkie.

Instead, focus on your own domain or blog. If you must, stick with one or two social sites. But be the master of your own domain, your niche, your content, and your audience.

And don’t become a social jack-of-all-trades.

Don’t join every single social networking site out there, posting on as many of them as you can, and plastering your blog with badges and banners and widgets and gadgets.

Speaking of which, have you not noticed how some blogs are becoming more and more mind-numbingly cramped and cluttered these days? Like Facebook badge this, Google connect that, MyBlogLog community this, follow-me-on-Twitter that. Oh, my!

Too much is too much. It just makes these overzealous websites look like one big blur of white noise all competing for your attention (and getting none of it), which is no different than those blinking, dizzying, seizure-inducing affiliate junkie sites.

Bottom line, take control of your content.

By fragmenting yourself instead of focusing on your own blog, you run the risk of losing control over your content, your traffic, and above all, your audience.

Think of it as the difference between renting and owning. Going to parties rather than hosting one of your own. Extracting quantity versus attracting quality.

Finally, let me end this by going back to the cocktail party analogy for a moment.

Social media is like a plethora of cocktail parties. It’s OK to go to some of them and hang out. But you can’t be at all of them at the same time, let alone stand out at each one.

Say you’re looking to find real friends and make real connections. If so, bar hopping won’t get you any friends. Or lucky, if that’s your wish. No, it will only get you drunk.

Look at it this way. Cocktail parties are great for networking, gossiping, and socializing. But nothing beats a party I host in my own house. And that’s my blog.

Be a host of the party instead of some faceless partygoer who’s voice is drowning among the white noise that people won’t ever notice much less remember.

Let others syndicate your content for you, link back to you, talk about you on social sites, recommend you, and drive traffic to you. Let others do the talking, in other words. Provide quality content and value, and serve others well. And others will talk about you.

In short, don’t be the life of the party. Be the talk of the party.