Is There a Downside to the Upside of Social Media?

by | Apr 27, 2009 | Social Media

Between the Susan Boyle phenomenon, participating in a panel discussion on the importance of social media in business as part of NYC Entrepreneur Week and watching clients eyes cross when I urge them to Twitter, I’ve been thinking a lot about social media lately. Is it only today’s flavor? Is there a downside we’re not seeing?

From my perspective as a product developer, social media delivers several benefits. It’s a market research tool that let’s us peer into the zeitgeist without conducting surveys or convening focus groups. Social features including forums, wikis and user generated/modified content add value to our products by allowing users to network and support each other. And social media has given us a vital marketing tool to power word-of-mouth advertising.

Responding to a question from the audience concerning marketing budgets for start-ups at the last NYC ENT event of the week, Sarah Tavel of Bessemer Venture Partners was unequivocal in stating that entrepreneurs launching new digital media companies/products should become experts in social media and search engine optimization, rather than spending cash on traditional marketing methods.

To the last point of social media as a marketing vehicle, while it works for me I understand why those in the newspaper and magazine business are biting their nails to the quick. Although you might argue whether Craigs List is or isn’t social media (I say it is), their self-service model has been siphoning off the advertising dollars that print publications have long relied on, leading Michael Wolfe to predict that “…18 months from now, 80 percent of newspapers will be gone. The Washington Post is supported by Kaplan’s testing business […] and they will probably continue to support the newspaper. But that’ll be an exception.”

Ouch. I admit that kind of statement does give me pause. The effectiveness of our democracy is based in part on the fourth estate — a strong and free press — but the truh is that fourth estate has been supported by advertising. When that revenue goes away because social media, in all its guises, has a lower cost value propostion to offer and paper after paper folds, what’s going to take it’s place?

Disruption is the price of change, and change is the only constant they say, but this unexpected consequence is starting to give me pause. Your thoughts?


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