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Hitchhiker’s Guide to Social Media: Shiny Object Syndrome


Ah, yes (image source: MacMonkies). Social media. Where to start for so many businesses. Perhaps the beginning shouldn’t even be strategy. It should be… “STOP! Don’t do it!”

Many businesses engaging in social media start with Shiny Object Syndrome. This strange disease that affects the mind causes companies and individuals to adapt the latest social communications tool based on peer pressure, buzz, or a strange desire to be one of the first.

Shiny Object Syndrome usually begins in the CxO suite where an often competent and brilliant executive who knows nothing about marketing or PR stops by a line manager’s office and says, “I read about Twitter today in the N.Y. Times. Why don’t we have an account, Jane? Are we going to lose out again like we did on blogs? By the way, did you see competition X just laid off 50 people. Bad times!”

Of course, Jane creates the Twitter account. Then when she shows it and her six followers to executive X, the response is, “Great, send them links and tell them about our web site!” One month later, Jane still has only six followers, and no new web site traffic. Hmmm, another victim of Shiny Object Syndrome.

Unfortunately, while in the short term placating a need to play with the newest communications toy, Shiny Object Syndrome can create terrific wastes of money. That in turn, can create terrible consequences for marketers and PR pros like Jane.

Getting beyond Shiny Object Syndrome requires the lead communicator to STOP! Then go back to the master communications plan. A healthy evaluation of social media tools should reveal whether or not stakeholders are even using these Shiny Objects. From there you can begin to evaluate whether social media really belongs in your plan.

But that is another chapter in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to Social Media.

About Geoff Livingston:

11 Comments on “Hitchhiker’s Guide to Social Media: Shiny Object Syndrome

  1.  by  Yvo

    You forgot the press release send out to every newspaper/TV station after Jane made an account on “leading in new commucation channels to enhance our micro brand awareness” and “web 2.0”.

  2.  by  Kyle

    Yvo beat me to my comment :)

    Understanding whether your community even uses social media has got to be one of the first steps. We found that a customer survey was very helpful in determining which social networks (if any) our folks were using. With that knowledge we put it to work and it has paid back huge dividends.


  3.  by  Geoff Livingston

    Kyle: Oh yes, understanding the community is huge. The question is how do I make it funny via Hitchiker theme. I’ll get to it, I promise. Keep the suggestions coming.

  4.  by  Meryl Steinberg

    Just tweeting about this with filmaker, Thomas Clifford. Your exec is all “eyes & ears”for Twitter yet lacking in “mind and heart” for social media. Question is how to instill a true “feel” for what relationship marketing is all about. We all know that relationships are rarely simple…or easy.

  5.  by  Amber Naslund

    The answer, of course, is 42. Ok, I kid.

    I think one of the most damaging things is that when a company rushes headlong into social media because everyone else is doing it,and before they understand it, they risk turning themselves off of it completely because of early failure. And for a business that might truly be able to integrate social media into their work and create value, it’s a shame that an ill-fated leap without looking can undermine the impact of a potentially great tool.

    Thanks for the great post.

  6.  by  Scott

    My mantra is “Always have a problem for your solution”. It’s so easy to get caught up in the GEE WHIZ of new web tools that you forget you didn’t need it. As a result, you end with a dead social networking presence, which is way worse than not having one at all. Instead of starting at 0, you’re coming in around -10.

    That said, we’re in a sort of funny position where we have a pretty popular Facebook Page that’s not really sending along any web traffic. Which is totally fine, it’s been a great opportunity to talk to fans and make our brand more “real”, but it also requires a different metric to gauge success. But that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms.

  7.  by  Matt J McDonald

    Great stuff. I say a lot of the things said in this post on a daily basis. Maybe we need a catchy slogan in the same vein as “stop, drop, and roll”. How about “stop, think, don’t be ridiculous”

    Thanks for the link love Geoff.

  8.  by  Liz Strauss

    Don’t panic!
    Sooner or later, businesses will come to the conclusion that customers are the one who buy their products and they will accidently get something right. When they do, they repeat it. Then we’ll all have something to point to, something about which we can say, “See, that works.”

    Marketing is still all about the people.

    Geoff, brilliant!

  9.  by  Lynn from Organicmania.com

    Great post, Geoff.

    Unfortunately, few organizations are willing to invest the upfront time and money to develop a great plan. If you don’t plan, you can’t measure progress and use those metrics to improve performance over time. (Don’t get me started on all the ‘fakey’ results powerpoints people try to pass off…)

    People just rush out and “do” without thinking things through and then wonder why their programs fail. You nailed it.

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