Did social media contribute to the Great Recession?

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There’s a joke among web developers that the Great Recession coincided with the launch of Twitter, but we only tell the joke quietly after first checking to make sure the room is empty.

We’re careful because we know all you business owners and marketers out there just love Facebooking and Twittering all day long while dazzling each other with fancy words like “hashtag” and “direct message.” And it’s fun because it’s easy. The technology doesn’t interfere with the experience, so you all can just go crazy.

Here’s the thing: if you spend more than 10 percent of the day (or your marketing division’s time) on social media, you’re probably losing money and wasting time. After working with dozens of companies who have over-committed time to social media, here’s what we all agree on:

Social Media doesn’t generate new leads or close new business

We’ve been told that the key to untold riches is to write blog posts every day, and then cross post that content onto Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn to help spread the word and generate new business. It’s a good set of tactics, but there’s no direct line to sales.

Even though people are willing to have a dialogue with a stranger on social media, they are generally unwilling to commit dollars or time (offline) to anyone or any cause that they are not involved with “in real life.” So the more effective strategy is to meet people offline and then continue the dialogue in social media to keep things going in between in-person events.

Social media consumes vast amounts of time

Just this morning I had a meeting with a startup government contractor who was frustrated at how busy she was. The firm had not yet landed its first client, so naturally I wondered what was taking so much time. She threw her hands in the air and said “Facebook!” It turns out she has spent nearly a year responding to people posting on Facebook instead of contacting potential clients like we used to do in the olden days, circa 2005.

Even I have lost entire working days to Twitter as I followed some random conversation thread that happened to spark my interest. These “Twitter days” don’t net new business, and they aren’t building potential new business relationships. They really are just completely wasted days, even if the conversation I’m following is within my business space.

Employees who really like social media will waste the most time and money

It kills me to say this, but those young eager social media know-it-alls who want to run your company’s social marketing are the biggest time wasters. They have not had the experience of running a campaign that had to produce sales; instead their campaigns are all about “activity” and “big social numbers” that don’t correlate to revenue.

Their tactics are geared toward encouraging people to talk about your company regardless of whether or not they will ever buy your product/service. Their campaigns are very, very expensive. And when they stop working on it, there will be no residual benefit for your company.

When you do run your social campaigns, find an experienced marketer who knows good strategy, and then make them learn social media. You’ll see far better returns this way versus letting an inexperienced marketer run wild with a platform they love.

So can you chuck social media out the window?

No, but use moderation when you approach the social media vortex. The attraction is strong and cloying, and it’s hard to avoid getting sucked into it.

Social media is terrifically effective for keeping your real life business relationships and friendships alive in between trade shows and conferences. And it’s a great place to float ideas and get advice. It has also been extremely effective for volunteer and employee retention and engagement — If you use it in these ways, you will have pretty good results. Just make sure you stay ‘on task.’

In all things social, the old rules still apply, watch what you say, keep your wits about you, and make sure to think of social media as an arrow in your quiver — not a silver bullet.

Marci De Vries is president of MDV Interactive, a web consulting firm in Baltimore. Reach her at marci@mdvinteractive.com.