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Why "do you use social media?" is the wrong question for marketers to ask

No one knows more about using the new Real-Time tools and strategies to spread ideas, influence minds and build business than David Meerman Scott. He's a marketing strategist, speaker, advisor to emerging companies, and author of ten books including three international bestsellers.

Social Media  |  Search Engine Marketing  |  Public Relations  |  Marketing  |  Research and Analysis  |  Corporate blogging

Have you noticed there are a bunch of polls and research reports that ask people questions such as "Do you read blogs?" or "Do you use social media?" or "Do you go to video sharing sites?" Often the resulting data show rather small use compared to those who, say, use search engines or email.

From the perspective of the value of social media in an organization's overall marketing and PR efforts, this data is misleading and dangerous. Why? Because the data is used by social-media-resistant executives to justify sticking exclusively to the methods that worked decades ago like image advertising, direct mail, and the yellow pages. I frequently hear CEOs, CFOs, and VPs of marketing say things like: "See, social media is not important, so we won't do it here. It is a waste of time." Other people say: "I don't read blogs, so how important are they?"

This data misses two tremendously important points for marketing and PR people to understand:

1) When asked "do you read blogs?" or "do you use social media?" many people answer "no". However, practically everyone uses Google and other search engines regularly and the search results frequently include blog posts or YouTube videos or other social media content high in the search results. So even though people may report "no" when asked if they use social media, nearly everyone has been to a blog or other social media content through search.

IMPORTANT: Many people who reach blogs via search don't even know they are on a blog!

2) When people who are not regular users of social media ask their network for advice, they often do it via email. Frequently the answer that comes back includes URLs to companies and products. And those links from friends, colleagues of family members often include blog posts. Frequently people ask their friends questions like: "What’s the best baby stroller to buy?" The answer may include a link to a blog post or a site with an embedded video. Again, the person asking for advice probably didn't even know they were on a blog or used a video-sharing site.

Use social media data with caution. Don't let your bosses diminish the hidden value of social media as search engine fodder and as a valuable type of information that people share with their network.