Hype kills: Balance & business in social media

Illustration by Zach Bulick

Illustration by Zach Bulick

It’s hard to have a conversation about Twitter without having to first talk about how silly it all is: the name, the character counts, the very concept. Same with blogging, or with virtually anything in social media – before you can have any serious discussion around it, you first have to shake your sillies out.

We gotta stop getting hung up on the seeming triviality of it all: as much as it’s a fad, a series of startups with silly names, and a passing phase, it’s also a new medium. Real dialogue is taking place, real connections forming, real business happening. Stop going meta, start thinking about how you can do it better.

This post is a stream of lessons I’ve been learning and ideas that’ve been brewing for a little while as I work with UGM to steer the organization’s social media plans. I ain’t saying I’ve figured out this crazy stuff — just sharing some of the realizations I’ve come to.


Social media begins and ends with real-live people, and the minute it’s mistaken for mere technology, that’s the moment it loses its value. That’s especially important for non-profits, where people are at the core of why you do the work you do. You can start monologuing on Twitter or postings videos on YouTube, but at some level, your strategy has to connect with, celebrate and centre entirely around people.

Social media is not about sitting at your computer and simply typing to people. It’s a way to rally people to come together, meet each other and make a tangible difference. As high-tech as the world of social media is, it really just comes down to a lot of traditional principles and values. Networking. Relationships. Connections. The next generation of communication isn’t about staying hidden behind a screen, it’s about using that screen to connect you to real people in real life.


There are a lot noisemakers out there in social media – prove you’re different by adding value instead of noise. Act like you’re in a living room — impress people with your ability to listen.

Take Facebook as your example: the great worldwide common room, with transparent room dividers segmenting people into social pockets. As an organization, you don’t really belong – not until your brand is seen as adding value to the conversation. On Facebook, people have a hard enough time ignoring ads, the influx of updates from peripheral friends they don’t care about – why should they care about you?


“Just being there” isn’t enough – to make social media worthwhile, you need to know why you’re there. For non-profits, is your point to raise money, educate donors, or just establish a reputation? Clarify your intent early – after you’ve allowed yourself enough time to experiment. What are you going to do with your community? If you manage to gather 500, 1000 or 50,000 Facebook friends, how are you going to mobilize them to rally to your cause?


No social media strategy should be reliant on a specific platform. Platforms are inherently transient, and businesses have to be nimbler than that. Setting up shop on YouTube or MySpace will bring short-term gains, but in order to last, you have to have a strategy that’s bigger than that – you have to be connected with the people themselves.


Keep one eye on the clock and the other on your web stats. It’s tempting to spend a lot of time cultivating your relationships online, but it’s all about your bottom line. Why does your organization exist? Make sure that in social media, your audience is being drawn to the core of your work, rather than being overwhelmed by the spectacle of your online strategy


Knowing what’s next in social media is easier than you think. My #1 philosophy for technology & trends has always been: “hype kills” (I keep meaning to make a t-shirt that says that). In essence, don’t be an early adopter, but have the same knowledge as one.

What did I miss? More importantly, what do you think? Let’s talk: leave a comment below.