How to make social media scale?

A little while ago Peter Kim has written an enlightening article on scalability of social media, posing the question: do social media scale at all? I was among advocates who believed it does, but slower than traditional media. There were, however, also critics who thought social media scale to a certain point, but have clear limitations.

This post prompted me to think more on this issue. Why are there so few case studies? Why companies are so reluctant to embrace social media, when it’s so cheap? Finally, why is it simply not working out as good in practice as it looks in theory?

Although there are no straightforward answers, and I didn’t come up with any revolutionary explanations, I did make some reflections.

Lack of education: marketers should be introduced to new media courses. By looking you can learn how it can be done, yet it’s not as easy to understand why it should be done. Formal education is slowly starting to be introduced to communication degrees here and there, but what about those already working in the industry?

Lack of understanding: we have made a successful transition from the importance of media content to the importance of media channel (and back again), and we’re pretty much stuck there. Social media call for recognising the third dimension of communications: the context. In fact, when applying social media strategy to marketing, both content and medium do not matter as much as the context in which they are presented. The ultimate success of a social media campaign depends on it. The first step towards engaging the publics (the motto of social media advocates) is to catch their interest. The easiest way to catch someone’s interest is when someone is already at it – remember, don’t disturb, get involved.

Lack of time and passion: Hence, to significantly increase your chances for success of your social media strategy, you have to know your audience. Not only their demographics – that worked fine for traditional marketing and advertising. Now as publics grow more sophisticated in their media use, it is reasonable to assume that marketers should also become more sophisticated with their research tools. With public’s wide use of social media applications on their computers, mobile phones, blackberries, iPods, etc – marketers have unique opportunities to ‘stalk’ the users: who they are, what they do, when and how they do it. Alas, marketers on the global scale got used to taking shortcuts when planning media strategy: often using the old statistics and tactics. They are simply too lazy or sloppy to use more time on the good old research.

Why don’t we start over again, but this time from the right end. Maybe then we won’t have to ask ourselves if social media scale or not.

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3 Responses to “How to make social media scale?”


  1. 1 Marketing Strategy September 2, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Because of the interaction involved, social media marketing (SMM) can take more time than search optimization (SEO) does. Marketing Strategy

  2. 2 Bruno Amaral September 2, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    I haven’t given much thought to the scalability of social media. But do we need it to scale?

    At some point, an idea or a conversation picks up speed and we just need to let it grow. At most, we will need to monitor it in case it becomes negative towards the company.

  3. 3 Helena Makhotlova September 2, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Exactly, as you put it: ‘at some point’. I think if marketers could confidently predict to their management that this point would come, and how much time and effort it would take to get there, companies would be less sceptical to put resources in social media.

    Yes, I belive, social media need to scale to show it’s potential to generate profits (both tangible and untangible) for businesses on the global scale.


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