Social Media - Emerging Power or Roaring Mouse?

Tom Snyder photo by Tom Snyder on Apr 06, 2010

We've been talking a lot about the impact Social Media is having in our region, where a growing number of  people and companies are using Twitter, Foursquare and the other Social Media tools to build relationships and generate business.  Media attention is fascinated with the phenomenon, with local coverage of the success of several Social Media-savvy businesses catapulting them to the national spotlight.

Even Trivera's recent open house Tweetup confirmed the power of Social Media, drawing a much larger crowd than our client open house whcih took place two weeks earlier. Over the last 14 years, we have built a passionate and loyal client base, but our Tweetup had twice as many attendees even though many of them were people we didn't even know a year ago.

However, as many of us Social Media evangelists tout its power, influence and impact, some are questioning if the wave of euphoria and urgency is deserved.  A number of commenters on many blogs I follow are calling us Kool-Aid drinkers.  They point out that most Social Media events seem to bring out the same group of the usual suspects. It's the same small cadre of small business owners being profiled in the local media as examples of the successful use of Social Media. The argument is that if Social media is such a powerful tool, there should be so many businesses with demonstrable success that the media wouldn't have to keep using the same ones over and over.

Fans tout Dell's sales of over $9 million directly attributed to Twitter in 2009. Detractors point out that that represents a minuscule percentage of their $61 billion in total sales. Local restaurant-owner Joe Sorge attributes a significant amount of his revenue at AJ Bombers to Social Media. Skeptics say that if Social Media was the big deal we're making it out to be, there would be dozens of other examples from among the hundreds of other Milwaukee restaurants.

For those of us who have been in the Web "industry" since the beginning, the criticism is nothing new. Pioneering new tactics and tools in the Web space have always had their skeptics. Even the Web itself was once lambasted as an unsustainable fad. It was labeled the CB Radio of the 90's.

At the moment, at least here in Milwaukee, it has the feel of a subculture. And as someone who has been a part of several subcultures (including the CB radio subculture in the 70's), it does feel strangely similar.

As Social Media garners the same attention, and the same criticism, the question needs to be asked: Is it just a flash in the pan fueled by the media needing to create stories where there really are none, or is it a game changer that's still in its infancy?

What do you tell the critics?  Or are you one yourself?

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