Why Social Media Inactives Have No Impact on Social Business Value

It’s interesting to me that the last post of this year is a rant. But it is.

There has been so much talk about how social networks have user abandoning accounts or creating multiple accounts and only using a few. The conversations have centered around three schools of thought: 1) investors are getting ripped off 2) social advertisers are getting ripped off 3) businesses using social media are getting ripped off.
In short: what’s the business value of social media considering the inactives?

To put it politely, you’re asking the wrong question.  

Here’s why.

Every single media type has heavy users and light users. People move in and out of media types as per their time and interests allow.
That doesn’t mean social media has no business value any more than it means that no other type of media captures 100% of the attention of 100% of the people.
Social media gets the grind because the activity of these users can be TRACKED. But no one tracks how many subscribers never actually open a magazine. No one tracks how many people turn on the TV only let it become background noise.
Because there is NO WAY TO TRACK IT.
But because it IS trackable in digital and social media its now being used by nay sayers who say that its a rip off? What?!
Don’t sweat the small stuff, people. This isn’t new.
Social media platforms aren’t ripping off their investors or advertisers anymore than any other media company who places its value on subscribers. Is my local newspaper who delivers me a daily newspaper even though I only subscribe for the weekends ripping off its advertisers? One could argue that they are adding value to their advertisers on the off-chance that I’ll actually open the newspaper on any other day besides Saturday and Sunday.

But here’s the big rub: social media isn’t just a form of media. The business value of social is different than other forms of media. It’s differentiating feature:  it’s a form of conversation.
Social media is an opportunity to tap into and create passions, interests and ideas of individuals. To know your people truly, not just in the way the media company wants you to see them. 
If all you’re doing is basing your choices on numbers of users, their ages or their incomes, you’re really missing the point AND the value to a business. In social media, you get to have a conversation and you get to tap into interests and passions in a whole new way. If you choose not to have that conversation as a business, then why not just run a print ad and call it a day?
Just because you can track it doesn’t make it a liability, it provides you with an opportunity for immediate feedback. In traditional media you invested big bucks before you found out whether your message resonated. Today? You can make immediate changes. And we’re focusing on inactives? C’mon. Let’s get real.
Tweet: Just because you can track it doesn’t make it a liability, its an opportunity for immediate feedback
Investment in social media for business is about investment in relationships.
Relationships are hard to put on a spreadsheet. Passions are hard to put on a spreadsheet. But that’s the very investment you’re making in social media.
If you’re advertising in social media, you’re still investing in relationships.
Look, I’m a BIG fan of ROI (as you can see from this blog). But let’s not examine the numbers as a liability, but an opportunity.

Social media makes all businesses potential publishers.
Social media eliminates the middle man and becomes the distribution point AND it provides the platform for two way conversation. Name another form of media or advertising that does that.
Still think its a rip off?
Can social media platforms make money for their investors? Yes. Just as other media companies did and will continue to do (albeit in a new and evolved way).
Can businesses make money advertising on social media? Yes. As advertisers have in the past and will continue to do.
Can businesses make money investing in social media conversation? Yes. As we’re seeing for the first time ever, and will continue to see. Some businesses are better at it. Some never will be.

So here’s what to do:
Don’t sweat the “inactive” people, focus on the active people. The people most receptive to your message.
The people who care enough to talk (good or bad) about your product or service.
And by the way, when a lot of people slam a business on social media, it’s almost like a cry for help. It’s better to share than to just walk away and never come back. There you have the value of the conversation.
Trust me, if you were able to convert only 25% of the potential passionate people, you’d be WAAAAY ahead of your competitors and you’d never think about the “inactives” again.
So, focus on the important stuff and forget the rest.

Focus on the important stuff: the passionate users and forget the rest.
Tweet: Focus on the important stuff: the passionate users and forget the rest.
That’s your recipe for 2014 success.
Now go out there and make it a great one!

PS: Thanks to Stephan O’Donnell at AyeRight.com for the blog post which provided inspiration for this post.