Posted January 11, 2010 1:23 pm by with 3 comments

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As marketing professionals, we usually have to justify ourselves to our bosses, our clients and everyone in between—especially in the less-tested, sometimes-hit-or-miss arena of social media. But now Ad Age wants accountability, too, as they ask “if you’re getting enough out of all the volunteer work you do for Biz & Ev and Mark,” or, more specifically, “Are we all just toiling mightily to make a bunch of rich nerds (Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and his employees and investors, Twitter’s Biz Stone and Evan Williams and their employees and investors) richer, while we impoverish ourselves?”

That’s both a literal and a figurative question, since using those social networks is exactly what makes their founders and investors money (well, sort of), and, as the argument goes, we’re essentially a volunteer labor force creating content for these sites—an interesting point. Meanwhile, using social networks (at all, as the argument here seems to go) means sacrificing time (true), actual interactions (possibly true but not always)—and our very souls and identities.

They mean this to be a discussion on a personal level, since a central thrust of the argument is that these social networks have sacrificed so much of our privacy that we’re allowing them to steal (don’t we call that “giving” in English?) “the sole ownership of our own thoughts, emotions, personal expressions, etc.” from us (yes, if I post “I’m sad” on a social network, that means that they also own my emotion…. right….).

Of course, if you’re using Twitter and Facebook as a marketer, you’re there looking for business ROI from publicity—being public. Ad Age (you know, “Advertising” Age? About . . . could it be . . . advertising?) does acknowledge that social networks might work for these purposes, if they’re worth the sacrifice:

If you’re a brand marketer, chances are good that you’re extracting real value from investing time and energy in social media (and you’re happy to have consumers volunteering their time to be your “brand ambassadors” or whatever you want to call them); good for you. (And if you’re a consumer who gets off on connecting with big brands — or just wants to interface with customer service in a forum, like Twitter, where certain marketers seem to be hyper-responsive — well, good for you too.) In general, if you’re soft-selling something — like content or an idea — that can benefit from free publicity, Facebook and Twitter are your friends. Even if, well, they’re the two-faced sort who think nothing of riffling through your handbag or backpack when you get up to go the bathroom — you know, glad-handing “friends” (those are air quotes) who are obviously using you for something, only it’s not always entirely clear what.

Um . . . I hate to bring this up, but aren’t we as marketers just using our social networks as those same kind of “friends” (and possibly even the friends and fans we acquire on those social networks)—we’re just using them as the means to an end?

I do agree, of course, that on a personal level, excessive use of social media can rob us of time and valuable interaction with the people we care about most. It’s good to examine our relationship with the Internet and social media on a personal level and decide whether it’s really worth the time and effort we put into it, or if we might put that time to better use. While that’s the brief summary of the argument at the conclusion of the article, the main thrust is that using social networks is such a great sacrifice of ourselves (even without a time investment) that it’s not worth it.

What do you think? Do you demand ROI from personal social network use? Or are you glad that most people don’t ;)?

  • Jordan,

    Thank you for this excellent, insightful, and thought-provoking post. We are not wasting time on social networks so long as we have an objective that is aligned with the time we spend on social media.

    From a marketing perspective, our customers are increasingly spending more time on social networks; therefore, that is where some companies need to concentrate their marketing efforts and spend some time on. A PPC campaign on these networks will get you no business – the only way to build up your new customers is to actually spend time engaging with them. If you consider this investment similar to how much you spend on Internet advertising, you can quickly see that you are not wasting your time and may be getting a bigger ROI than you thought from social media.

    From a personal perspective, yes, we may be sacrificing a lot to be spending so much time on social media. And this comes down to what your objective is. If you have no objective for being on social networks, stay off them. But if you believe that building up your online personal brand and increasing connections with thought leaders like yourself will lead to something big in the future, keep spending time on social media but create some boundaries and start limiting the time that you spend appropriate with your objective.


  • Great article. Too many businesses expect FB and Twitter to increase their sales directly. Social media, I tell them, is another way to develop relationships with prospects and customers. Those who get this are fairly happy with their SM efforts. Those who don’t abandon SM without really giving it a try.

  • It’s good to question what we’re getting out of networks like Twitter and Facebook. Too often the use of such social sites is more about hype than results.

    That said, I’ve realized tremendous value from social networking and media, and not just in terms of, ‘Dude, my sites got wayyyy more visitors now!’.

    Nope, I’m talking about real dollars generated from services I provided as a result of inbound leads. All my tweets and status updates are geared toward starting new conversations and developing new relationships, not just as a ‘means to an end’, but because I’m intellectually curious.

    The business that comes my way is a nice side effect of keeping a pulse on successful online marketing strategy…
    .-= Social Media Commando´s last blog ..Beware the Single Deadliest Social Media Strategy Killer =-.