Still not convinced of the value of social media

It feels like we spend most of our time promoting what we do on the media networks.

What we do, what we wear, what we eat, where we eat, where we travel.

In the meantime, who’s living? Who’s working? Who’s running?

You can’t jog and type. You can’t eat and look in your lover’s eyes and type.

Working in a field called public relations that calls for being on top of the action and being well connected to people and what they do, I still find it difficult to fully embrace social media.

I feel that social media offers a limited benefit relative to the time involved in signing up to multiple social media networks and to the accessory web and mobile apps that will help you manage those networks. And social media, like blogs, are now themselves advocating that nothing—nothing—beats in-person communication and eye contact.

Despite all the technology in the world, even with sellable iProducts offering what they call “face time,” it is still the physical presence of a human being without the barrier of a screen that makes things happen, that makes the heart beat, that makes someone listen to you or come to your spa or purchase your dress or donate to your puppy shelter.

Since its emergence, I doubt the power or effectiveness of social media to really achieve anything.

I was in the first class of my graduate diploma in public relations when the instructor brought up social media. “Is it useful?” he asks. “No. It is limited and will die,” I answer and received looks from classmates.

At the time, 2009, I couldn’t see how social media networks like Facebook could possibly benefit large and reputable organisations like the United Nations, for example, or why a company like BMW would want to promote on Facebook. Does it need to? Who is on Facebook? Can they afford a BMW? Or is it just blind promotion to everyone out there in the hopes they will tell their friend or their dad who can afford a BMW?

Today, 2012, I am signed up and a frequent user of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. I find it draining. Fun at times, as well as informative because I follow organisations, enterprises, publications and people who talk about what I care about: human rights advocacy, environmental safeguard initiatives, culture and art, and social behaviour.

I also use social media to stay abreast of what can help my clients’ cause or business, and to connect with people.

After producing content, following, attracting and trying to maintain 5,000 ‘likes’ and 5,000 ‘followers’, then what? Does this translate to people using your product? Reading your blog? Adopting your advice to turn off your vehicle engine while parked?

Furthermore, social media means others also use social media to get your attention. Meaning, you will forget what you were reading and what you were supposed to do with that information. I truly believe that.

At no other time have we had so many devices in our hands and pockets, and so much information—most of it really of no consequence—thrown at us. How can we comprehend it all? Process it all? Keep track of it and use it?

A comment I heard yesterday from a hard-working founder and CEO of a great startup with a great product made the issue of social media clear to me. “Facebook is not bringing us revenue, Twitter is not bringing us revenue,” he said. This, from a man whose hands seem hooked to his iPhone or iPad or laptop, responding and engaging on social networks.

So why do we spend so much time?

“What I need is visibility. For blogs and journalists to talk about us,” this feisty businessman declares.

Yes. Is there someone who doesn’t say that?

Again, I come back to dealing with my skepticism of the effectiveness of social media, and of recommending to clients that they embark or not on the social media train.

Is investing yourself in social media overwhelming or just futile?

As public relations professionals, do we have the choice to not use social media at all in our profession and stick to what has worked and does work? I.e. warm handshakes, conversations, smiles, written correspondence, events, and representation in television, radio and print.

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