Monday, June 15, 2009

Is Social Media Stretching You Out?

Let me preface this post by saying that I wrote about half of it a week ago and decided to sleep on it to see if I was just in a funk or if my thoughts have changed. Some recent readings have allowed me to make some revisions and additions so I can let ‘er fly. I will apologize up front for the length of the post, but it is what it is. No video this time, just The Apartment Nerd in black and white. Enjoy.

Recently I have felt super stretched for the time to dedicate to blogs, twitter, email, and just my regular job and personal life. It’s been frustrating to not read blogs that I used to somehow find time to read and comment on, and to find myself getting buried in emails that require my attention but don’t get the immediate response they probably deserve. Then, by chance, I saw a tweet this weekend by Jeremiah Owyang*. He linked to the most recent post on his Web Strategy blog speaking to the scalability of humans. While he references how difficult it is for his peers online and in the blog world to scale what they do as they grow and do more, I think we can look at this as an example for why online Social Media and Social Networking is so challenging for anyone.

A couple weeks ago Lisa Trosien had an interesting post with "Maybe It Should Really Be Called Social NOTworking?" After commenting, feeling the way I have in recent weeks, and reading Jeremiah’s post, I want to ask the question a bit differently and more in general for all business and marketing. Should it really be called Social NOTworking because people just don't have time? And I'm not just saying us as companies trying to use the tools for networking and marketing, but also as a consumer.

We know it takes time from a business perspective to participate in social media, but are we making an assumption that consumers aren’t stretched for time as well? Maybe it’s too much to participate in social media and fulfill the needs of our day jobs and personal lives? I find myself up at midnight writing things like this blog post wondering if it's just a bunch of nerds getting psyched about social media for marketing and trying to push everyone else on board. How many everyday people really have the time or desire to participate online as a hobby or even regularly? Yes, the number of accounts and the growth has been staggering, but what about the ongoing usage and the falloff? Is social media just another fad?

Are we mainly connecting with a small group of nerds that will always think it’s cool, or is social media really sticky? How many of your friends on facebook never have new status updates? How many people do you know that don't even have a facebook account and never intend to? How many of you have completely abandoned your MySpace account? How many people do you know that have created a Twitter account, but have never posted to it and most likely never will? (And one post that says “Checking out this Twitter thing” doesn’t count.) Have you read about the recent studies on Twitter usage? How much time per week would you say you "waste" using social media sites? Do you feel guilty wasting that time? As a consumer, do you engage with any brands online consistently? I’m an Internet nerd and have never used Yelp!, ever. Is there too much focus on online reviews?

I may be contradicting some of my opinions and thoughts that I shared in commenting on Lisa's post (and in my general point of view), but I'm thinking things through a bit differently and playing devil’s advocate to myself I suppose. I love the multi-family, marketing, and social media relationships I've built using Twitter, facebook and, but I don't take any time to engage with brands like Lexus, Apple, TaylorMade Golf, HyperLite Wakeboards, Nintendo, Samsung, Taco Bell, Gatorade, Budweiser, etc. Am I fans of these brands on facebook? Maybe. But that's as far as it goes as I just don’t have time. If we ourselves are not engaging with our favorite brands, why would we think our customers would do so? And even if they do, is it sustainable?

I believe there is a niche for social media in every business’s marketing plan, and I also believe that companies can leverage these tools to build keyword rankings on search engines, provide content for their brand, and communicate with customers. Let’s just not lose sight that there is a total plan and that there are many pieces to the puzzle that we still don’t do well in our industry as a whole. Email being one example. Heck, most statistics will tell us that just answering the phone is a challenge.

Unfortunately, I view social media as more of a challenge than a solution today in marketing apartments as well. It is a challenge as it fights for time with the phone, email, and good old face to face communication. It is also a challenge in that our customers face the same battle for time as we do in using the tools. Until social media tools can be used to consistently SAVE people time, I believe its best use is to enhance search engine optimization for a company and/or communities. There are exceptions to the rule, but I think those exceptions are rare and have not experienced the scalability challenges Jeremiah suggests in his post. I’m sure there will be an evolution in social media that addresses the issue of time and scalability, but until then I’m not certain the majority of consumers and businesses will completely embrace the tools available as we see them today. Thus, Social NOTworking.

*(If you’re not familiar with Jeremiah Owyang visit his blog with one of the links above or visit the NAA Education Conference website to learn more about him and his participation in the upcoming panel discussion on Social Media with Tony Tsieh - CEO of, Pete Flint - Founder of, and Moderator, Eric Wu - Co-Founder of at next week’s conference in Las Vegas.)


  1. Interesting!

    I feel like there is a scarcity of good marketing today. Good marketing means which can convert the leads into sales. The only marketing that has moved me in the last couple of years is Social Media Optimization.

  2. Edward-

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I still believe there is a lot of power in using social media tools for your business. Especially in the case of technology and online businesses I believe these are the most effective tools. The challenge that truely comes with these efforts is the time dedicated to making them work for you. While they are essentially free to use, the time it takes to use them is not free. Balance is a challenge, and I think many will give up before they fight through the dip for balance.


  3. Mark,
    I can definitely relate to your perspective here. I've thought a lot myself about this same issue - are we(those of us who actively tweet, blog, etc) just in an echo chamber when it comes to the "power" of social media and how it is changing and affecting all of our lives? Or is this simply the beginning stage of a massive shift in the way our culture communicates? Obviously the answer remains to be seen.
    Something I've picked up on and wanted to point out is the high percentage of friends I have on Facebook that I don't find on any other SM site. I'd say there is only about a 10% crossover to connections on Twitter, and even less when it comes to creating and sharing information on sites like Digg, Vimeo, personal blogs, etc. There could be 2 reasons for this - Facebook, being by far the biggest, and in recent times, most popular network, is the "training wheels" for people just figuring out how to engage in SM. As they become more comfortable with it they begin to move outside it's gates, but this comfort level is one that's only just beginning to set in with the masses. The alternative is that we're going to eventually end up with various SM channels, with relatively little user crossover(say 20% or less), which in turn will require businesses and marketeers to spend greater amounts of time participating across networks to fully engage their market. If this is the case, then we all better find a way to make the time spent engaging online simply a part of our daily routine for the foreseeable future.

    I'd like to believe we're simply the early adopter crowd, and as I'm sure you've read, Jeremiah's insight into the 5 era's of the social web would seem to support that notion. It's possible that one of the biggest opportunities in the SM marketplace right now is not another Twitter, or another Facebook, but rather management tools that reduce the complexity(& time spent) for participants of multiple channels, and therefore knock down what I think are some of the natural barriers to widespread adoption. IMHO, I think this is just the beginning. It should be interesting to watch it all play out.

    All in all, great post - I love the candor.

  4. Hey Matt, thanks for the comment. You make a great point about facebook being the "training wheels" for social networks. My concern is that the majority get to a point where the wheels fall off and they crash, while only a few actually choose to take the wheels off and take advantage of what's down the street and around the corner.


  5. So true. But like they say, once you learn to ride a bike, you never forget!

  6. Spot on, Mark. I would have to say that overall, Social Media gets more credit than it deserves. It pains me to say, because I spend so much time on it.

    I think marketers get fired up when they hear, and then repeat, success stories. The feeling is that if Kogi Bar-B-Que can have success on Twitter, everyone can! But that's not true. Those cases are rare.

    Like most things, social media takes time, effort and strategy. It's not a magic bullet.

  7. Jay-

    Thanks for stopping by. I think we've sparked some interesting thoughts, and I think they especially pertain to small businesses and managing time with new tools. It will be interesting to see how we all begin to use these tools to help streamline our work. In these early stages of the game for many I feel much time is wasted trying to figure it all out though. I guess I feel good I have invested a solid amount of time in researching the tools vs. just jumping in feeling like we have to be in the space and not having a plan. Unfortunately for many they have a learning curve to get through and that takes time. It's back to basic planning for a business, but social media's expense is time and not necessarily cash.