11 May 2010 8:37 am   //   Filed under: Media, Technology

Four mysteries of social media

“I didn’t know what Facebook was. And now that I do know what it is, I have to say it sounds like a huge waste of time.” — Betty White on SNL

This is a time of fear, promise, and fidgety energy. Everyone who does what I do (marketing copywriting) is swimming in all of that as we adapt to social media.

The biggest challenge? Getting good information. Pragmatically, I need to connect with real people, not shout to a room of empty chairs or dumb robots. How do I figure out what to do?

For starters, by listening to social media experts. But here we have a big problem. Everyone with expertise in social media is also invested in it. If you’re in the business of promoting Google Buzz consultancy services, of course you’re going to rave about the tremendous potential of Google Buzz. When you’re talking about Twitter on Twitter, volume and repetition are as good as authority. And in this climate (here’s where the fear factor comes into play), any experts who betray a hint of skepticism are swiftly marginalized by their fellow social media leaders.

Those of us surveying this scene from a distance—ie., who embrace social media but don’t list it as a skill on our LinkedIn profiles—sometimes want to throw our hands up in frustration. Since I can’t count on self-styled social media experts for independent advice, I have to do research on my own. My counterparts in marketing departments everywhere are doing the same.

I’m convinced social media has armed us with amazing, powerful new tools, especially Twitter and Facebook. But I have questions I can’t answer. Here are four of them.

  • Can social media “influencers” actually influence off-line behavior?
    Or: Why did “Kick Ass” flop at the box office?
  • Is social media secure enough?
    Or: Should we be more concerned about the privacy of our customer communications—for our sake, and for the sake of our customers?
  • Is social media popularity the result of quality and good work, or is it rigged and arbitrary?
    Or: Why is Justin Beiber better at engaging people on Twitter than every other human?
  • Do social media ethics exist?
    Or: If Zynga gets away with something, does that make it OK?