The Social Media Gold Rush

Scott: Posted on Wednesday, May 09, 2012 10:54 AM

Human behavior is predictable, yet also irrational.  Take the California Gold Rush, which began on January 24, 1848, when gold was found by James W. Marshall at Sutter’s Mill in Coloma, California. (I knew that middle school factoid would come in handy some day)

Good ol’ Wikipedia instructs us that “On August 19, 1848, the New York Herald was the first major newspaper on the East Coast to report the discovery of gold (yep, it took a while sans Twitter). On December 5, 1848, President James Polk confirmed the discovery of gold in an address to Congress (the guy needed some talking points).  Soon, waves of immigrants from around the world, later called the “forty-niners”, invaded the Gold Country of California or “Mother Lode”.  At its peak, technological advances reached a point where significant financing was required, increasing the proportion of gold companies to individual miners. Gold worth tens of billions of today’s dollars was recovered, which led to great wealth for a few. However, many returned home with little more than they had started with.”

But why do we (humans) follow?  Is it fear?  Fear of being left out.  That someone somewhere will have more than us, that we will be criticized for not acting quickly enough and that criticism could jeopardize our way of life, our comfort zone.  The reason I bring it up is because it reminds me of what’s happening in social media today.  “There’s gold in them thar hills!”  Only these hills are much more complicated and shift on a daily basis.

Social media is not a marketing strategy or tactic, it’s the description of the sociological phenomenon enabled by technology.  Society has changed.  It’s time to hitch your wagon to that line of thinking if you’re really going to understand social media.

During the Gold Rush, many people made money from the new settlers in search of riches from around the world.  I imagine in those days there were “Gold Consultants” who knew the right places to pan and dig and took their fair share of actual money for this knowledge.
Well, you can’t swing a dead cat around without hitting some marketing consultant who is now suddenly an expert in all things social media.  Even though I staked my claim in this space fairly early (about 2003-4), I really don’t consider myself to be an “expert” in social media.  Mainly, because it changes daily and it’s hard to be an expert in a field that isn’t completely written yet.

That said, here are my golden nuggets of wisdom re: social media:

1. Have a plan.  Sounds simple, but even some of the biggest brands out there are panning and digging all over the place without a clear plan.  Know what you want to do and make sure social media supports your overall goals and is not a goal by itself.

2. Stay up on the latest news.  No gold here?  Heard there was some in the pass up ahead?  Invest in your own knowledge and education not just about the tools, but about the trends in social media and find ways to analyze your current marketing through this lens.

3. Be wary of social media BS –  and I’m not talking about a Bachelor of Science here.  I’m talking about the kind that makes the flowers grow so nice and pretty.  If someone is giving you social media advice without looking at your overall marketing plan, be afraid, be very afraid.  If they say “I can set up your FB presence,” without knowing your goals, they are just as likely to sell you a bottle of snake oil and call it medicine, partner.

Because the way we communicate has changed, I believe that social media has a place in just about every PR/communications strategy.  But the real question is: what is that place?  It’s not the same for everyone and it depends on (wait for it) YOUR goals.
Do me a personal favor, don’t follow people into social media blindly for the promise of gold. Otherwise, it’s another dot com bubble waiting to burst. Instead, have a plan that aligns to your business goals and make social media a part of that plan as needed.

Call or e-mail me when you’re ready to put down the pan and put together your plan.  (yes, I am working on a rap song as we speak!