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The pied pipers of social media

As the internet morphed from Web 1.0 — oh wait there was no Web 1.0 — to Web 2.0 and towards Web 3.0 it’s showing some interesting new trends. In particular social media is the hot topic to end all hot topics at the moment.

That’s where it’s all at, isn’t it?

One would be excused if one thought social media was the only big item to hit one’s web browser in the last year or so, that’s how much noise there is about this newish development.

What is social media? It’s basically a space where people gather to share some kind of activity. This could be holding conversations of no more than 140 characters and that includes spaces, poking each other or sharing and approving articles posted on the web.

That space occupied by the social media group or tribe, as Seth Godin calls it, is on somebody’s server. That somebody owns and can do what they want with your conversations (Biz Stone), interactions with your friends (Mark Zuckerberg) and your news preferences (Kevin Rose), to mention but a few.

I thought I would just include that little warning again. It’s my favourite topic of the month, well it’s been that for the past two years actually.

What is amusing is that none of these social media spaces have managed to develop a workable business model. In other words, none of them are making any real money that converts into profit, never mind be enough to cover overheads.

Even more amusing is the fact that the marketing experts have no idea how to slot social media into their campaigns, which must be unbelievably infuriating. After all there are 14 million people on Twitter (March 2009 stats) but how does one get at them. Isn’t TV so much easier?

Dell has managed some success. $1 million in product sales by December 2008 directly via Twitter is some return. Although of course one needs to view this as a ratio of total sales of $61 billion in 2008, which shows that this is not exactly an earth-shattering result. Advice to Dell — don’t give up any of your other marketing efforts.

As an interim solution until the marketing gurus come to terms with the new landscape and manage to find some way to reach their customers via social media, a string of Pied Pipers are being employed to good use.

One such Pied Piper is Chris Brogan who pipes about companies and events to drive traffic online and offline. It’s at a cost to companies of course. No free lunch here.

But what really made me think of the Pied Piper fairy tale was the example of American Express and its OPEN Forum. American Express co-opted the popularity of its guest bloggers, in particular Guy Kawasaki, to drive traffic to the forum.

Every time Kawasaki posts a blog to the site the traffic doubles. And it’s via Kawasaki’s Twitter following that OPEN Forum scoops its largest traffic percentage. Kawasaki’s current and growing 117 751 followers plus RT (retweet) power is the magic here.

As an aside, Kawasaki was recently caught out using ghost writers, so that kind of puts a question mark on the whole endorsement story doesn’t it. Mind you, talking about fake, those models selling make-up have half an inch of face paint on as well as the help of Photoshop whiz-kids. Same thing isn’t it. Who and what can one trust nowadays?

Until marketers catch up with social media and have worked out how it ticks, the use of Pied Pipers will continue. There are some benefits to being an early and eager adopter after all.

Drat. Missed that one again. Signed up to Twitter in March 2007. Didn’t see that one coming … Twitter name is Anja if you want to follow me.