Exploiting Social Media – Some lessons

The past 12 months have been a major learning experience as I transition from my recent social media startup.  After a hiatus of nearly a year from blogging,  I wanted to summarize some key lessons as I rode the downslide of the first social media wave. These include:

  • Marketers are still trying to figure out does social media work (in a reliable manner compared to other online channels). Selling tools and me-too products is just not enough.
  • Social media advertising is still a variant of  the good old genre – “display advertising” – call it promoted tweets, sponsored stories etc. From a marketer’s perspective, easier to do another ad copy for a channel rather than focus on costly prospect specific engagement.
  • Running social media campaigns effectively is a costly affair. You need a big Ops team to do anything sustainable.
  • A big question: Is social media advertising even worthwhile for folks on the long tail (in their category)? Is there even enough worthwhile volume of chatter for leads or otherwise?
  • Social media analytics – NLP, big data crunching etc. is quite erroneous and noisy. The Signal-to-Noise ratio (Read Nate Silver) is quite low.  To get real value, one really needs to do a lot of work. The big question is: Is this all worthwhile ?
  • Finally, mobile and social are quite conflated – as every day consumers try to figure out the modalities of what works best for them. Marketers are still grappling with the question which channel to put their spend on.

Answers to many of the above questions are anecdotal with the end justifying the means.  After processing nearly 100 Million tweets (Twitter) and statuses (FB) in specific verticals (over the past 24 months), less than 10% of these tweets have real economic value. These numbers vary by vertical but social media has long ways to go to compete with display or search as marketing channels in terms of funnel volumes. Having hand-labelled nearly 100000 tweets for our engines, I believe there are pockets of worthwhile chatter. Considering the origins of twitter (Short staccato language used by cops, emergency services, dispatch operators),  one wonders how much of “semantic” content can one embed in these tweets. Much of the these streams are awash with brand/publisher driven chatter that finding worthwhile nuggets still remains a difficult problem.

On the upside, I hope as folks learn how to use and exploit this medium as publishers, advertisers and “readers”, the quality of content (UGC or professionally done) will mature, leading to some real value creation.  With the introduction of video, audio and other content forms, newer applications of this channel remain to be discovered. Newer forms of engagement, content types and inter-platform integrations portend richer consumer experiences in the near future.