From the outset social media was created to link people together. Whilst Friends Reunited touted the idea of finding long lost classmates, Facebook was connecting students in Harvard. But somewhere along the line, boundaries between harmless conversations and prolific publicising have become blurred.
Nobody can argue that there are fantastic opportunities to be gained for businesses using social media and that their influence can be a positive one – providing discounts, useful information and a right of reply – but is there a danger web 2.0 overkill will eventually be its downfall?
To begin with I think it’s only fair to promote the positive impact of social media in business. For starters the sharing of valuable information has become remarkably straightforward. Online oracles, the likes of Brian Clark (Copyblogger) and Chris Brogan along with any number of journalists and bloggers, are sharing advice and informative resources across Twitter daily. You don’t need to buy a book, have a meeting or even a conversation, the information is freely available for anybody to use, share and respond to. This can be as inspiring as it can be practical, and is only possible(on such a scale at least) because of social media.
Then there are companies that use it as an additional customer service centre. This is what I would consider positive reinforcement of social media as a PR tool. The real-time interactivity afforded by these platforms makes Twitter or Facebook a fantastic opportunity for businesses to become more open and interact with their customer base. Often online businesses will provide polls to improve services, hold exclusive competitions and supply unique coupons; all of which benefits the consumer just as much as the company itself.
But herein also lies the dark side of social media promotion. The line between providing a useful service and irritating bombardment can be surprisingly thin. Last month I asked the question, Is the Internet too Noisy? The conclusion was that some elements had become so populated and overflowing with valueless information that they were in danger of undermining the positive aspects of the Internet. Social media now appears to have become yet another platform that has fallen foul of unscrupulous souls, using it to promote their illicit wares (and malwares).
Unfortunately the amount of spam that floats around the pages of social media is being added to by an equally unhelpful and continuous murmur of valid promotional activity. Of course people want to promote their products, services, websites and blogs, but as more do so, the harder it becomes to decipher the disingenuous from the useful. Twitter particularly is swamped with vacuous messages, underpinned by the latest trending topics, which has seriously damaged the quality of service the site is able to offer.
The PR dream is therefore quickly becoming a communication nightmare. Few would argue that the promoting of businesses and services can be a positive thing, but marketers surely need to become more innovative or risk the platform that they use becoming sterile. Social media for business should be about adding value to the services that you offer, not generating traffic at any cost.
The failings of social media help to ensure that SEO remains the pivotal force in determining the success of websites. Whilst tweeting updates can bring in traffic, there’s no inherent sustainability or guarantees in doing so. You need to work at creating a profile on social media, becoming a source that people can trust and will find relevant to their requirements, whether now or in the future.
With SEO relevance is assured. You target the keywords that best suit your services and will attract relevant traffic as a result. Social media can help raise your profile, again, this is another reason why it is still such a fantastic PR tool, but it is unlikely to provide the same levels of targeted visitors than a well designer, fully optimised website.
So will PR ultimately destroy social media as we know it? Probably not. However, there is a tendency to believe that it is a magic ticket to success, which prompts many to overuse and ultimately abuse its potential. In the media-rich world, advertising is impossible to escape; seemingly the likes of Facebook and Twitter are far from exempt and are in danger of becoming just another digital billboard.