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If I hear the word “social” one more time…

by Jenny Sussin  |  May 7, 2012  |  9 Comments

Maybe I am being dramatic, but if I hear the word “social” one more time today I am going to throw my laptop at the window.

“Social” has unfortunately become a buzzword. I would say this has happened over the last year or so (does anyone agree, disagree?) It’s driving me bananas (not a Denny’s plug, just the way my brain feels right now.) With these last three sentences of vented frustration, you’re probably thinking: hypocrite. I know, I am a social CRM analyst. Let me share with you how I avoid feeling like a hypocrite on this by sharing with you the way 40% of my client inquiries start:

Client: Hi Jenny, we need a social strategy.

Jenny: Okay and what is it that you’re looking to do?

Client: See what people are saying about us on social media. Oh, and brand awareness, general marketing.

Jenny: In order to…?

Notice how I am not using the term “social” when I talk back. I practically beg and plead with people on a daily basis not to go after “social” for “social’s sake” – and yes, people have told me that is a meaningless phrase and to those people I say, go work in corporate marketing for a week and come back to me. What I am saying in an overly complicated way is that the word “social” is stigmatized. “Social” is something employees are supposed to be/do and businesses are “being.”

The word makes people angry and defensive. A few weeks ago at an event I was told by not one, but two attendees that I wasn’t an expert on “social” and that they have been “social” for their entire careers. If when we say “social” we’re talking about talking in person, or through email, or on the phone, or attending an event – then yes, you and the cavemen have been social forever, no one is debating you. The problem is, they know and I know that, that isn’t what is meant when people say “social” now. When someone says “social” now they’re talking about mass:mass media, and more often than not they’re talking about externally facing social networks like Facebook or Twitter.

And externally-facing mass:mass media isn’t something everyone or every business should be leveraging. Just because Autodesk used social media (a peer-to-peer community) to cut customer support costs and realized ROI of  about $6.8 million [clients only] – doesn’t mean you will. And that is okay! I know that isn’t what you’re hearing from your management, but it is!

Along the what-we-mean-when-we-say-social thread, the term “inherently social” is also misused “on the regular.” Since we can all stop arguing for a minute and agree that “social” doesn’t mean socializing in the way we’ve meant it for the past hundreds of thousands of years, saying something is inherently social would probably have to mean it is built off of/or with a connector to Facebook, Twitter, etc.

Here is all this rant and rave is really asking for: please stop defining “social” as the dictionary does whenever someone comes to you and says “we need to get social!” Additionally, when someone says that to you, can you please ask them or take it upon yourself to define potential business benefits [clients only] for the actions you are about to take? Thank you.

P.S.: And for the record, I have not ever, and will not ever, be calling myself an “expert” in anything. There is always room to learn, analyze and form new perspectives, which is fortunately what I do for a living.

P.S. x2: Try to forgive all of the grammatical errors. Just try.


Category: 360  marketing  social-crm  social-media  

Tags: facebook  gartnercrm  marketing  sales  social  social-crm  social-media  socialcrm  twitter  

Jenny Sussin
Research Director
6 years with Gartner
7 years IT industry

Jenny Sussin is a Research Director in the ITL Enterprise Software group of Gartner Research, with primary focus on social for CRM. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on If I hear the word “social” one more time…

  1. We need to categorise what we humans have been doing for years. Who came up with the term social anyhow?

    • Jenny Sussin says:

      I hear you. Humans have been socializing for years, there is no denying that. What I am saying is that to say you’ve been social for your entire career in the context of the use of social media, mass:mass technology, is false. Unfortunately, the term is what it is, so to speak to the true definition of the term social in this context ends up leading the conversation down a path it doesn’t really belong in.

      No idea who came up with the term “social.” I just live here.

  2. LRomasco says:

    Love it! (pile-on time) Further, social media isn’t the secret elixir to solving all myriad of marketing woes. It’s a promotional, albeit powerful, tool that can only be successful when backed by a well-researched and honed marketing strategy. Thanks for posting, Jenny. We couldn’t agree more!

  3. Jenny Sussin says:

    Wait — the term “social” is not synonymous to “abra-cadabra!”?

  4. […] this nice article “If I hear the word “social” one more time…” wrote by Jen…, she asks us to avoid overusing the term “social” and gives a proper definition on how […]

  5. Tiago Bueno says:

    Hi Jenny, reading the definition of social you presented made me think if it’s possible for a company to keep being really social while reaching so many people (mass media)… I wrote about that in my blog and thought you might be interested in reading it:

    (and I was actually very surprised to find my article already linked in the comment above! I love technology… :-)

  6. Jenny Sussin says:

    Thanks for sharing Tiago!

  7. Michele Bowman says:

    Jenny – I think what is old is new again…the social networks allow clients to have a 1:1 relationship with their customers in a high touch, high manner way. The key is they have the opportunity to build that relationship and it can scale big. I too think the word “social” has been over used!

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