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Why Social Media Relevance is the Key

I’ve been spending a lot of time recently thinking about Quora. I’m not as interested in whether the question and answer service is the next social media “star” as I am in what the interest in Quora means. To me, the giddiness about Quora has a lot to do with the hunger for new and shiny toys, as well as how well the Silicon Valley hype machine promotes its own.

With Facebook and Twitter now part of the “establishment”, people are looking for the what’s next. But I think the appetite for new is overshadowing a a far more interesting issue: Now that social media has broad acceptance and usage, companies are trying to determine what to do with it.

“What to do with it” is not about how to use the tools but how social media can be effectively leveraged to support and grow a business. Social media is cool but what is the true value given that being on social media is no longer a competitive differentiator?

After a lot of thought, I think it comes down to a key issue: relevance. Companies – and people – are now focused on how to make social media relevant, a completely different conversation than tactical execution or engagement. Relevance means harnessing social media to make a business operate better or gain a competitive edge. It’s a simple proposition but something that has received little attention amid the enthusiasm about the new tools.

While not taking anything away from people such as Brian Solis who have been hammering away at the importance of “influence”, relevance is more important because it sits at the core of why a company would embrace social media. Yes, social media is about engagement and conversations but why would a business do social media if there was no operational and financial benefit?

There’s value in influence but influence has much to do with reaching out to people outside the organization to support and boost your communication, marketing and sales efforts. In many ways, the focus on influence puts the cart before the horse because it does little to help a company figure out what they need to get from social media. It doesn’t matter if a company connects with influencers if its social media efforts don’t provide strategic dividends.

Truth be told, influencers are just the next social sexy. Whereas the tools used to be cool and sexy, they are quickly losing their lustre as more people use them. Content is invaluable but not terribly sexy. But influencers, now we’re talking sexy because if you can win over influencers, the world is your oyster – at least in theory.

Relevance may not be sexy but it’s fundamentally more critical. If a company can figure out how its social media efforts can be relevant to what it wants to achieve strategically and tactically, it can achieve its objectives and goals – be it a stronger brand, more sales and better customer service.

One of the benefits of having social media relevance is it can help a company connect with influencers because it offers a foundation and reason to pursue them. Truth be told, influencers have little value if they’re just baubles that come along with being active on social media.

I would argue the focus on influencers is being given way too much credence. Influence is an easy concept to understand and pitch; whereas relevance means spending the time to put social media into context so that it provides a business with a new and powerful way to grow and be more competitive.

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  • zach

    You are making a good point; although after reading your posting, I feel influence and relevance are two sides of the same coin.

    • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

      Zach,

      They may be two of the same coin in that they both are about making social media more effective but my take is they’re distinctly different. Relevance is an internal activity, while influence is external. Thanks for the comment!

      • Zach

        Amen!

  • http://www.gallery.ca Colin Chen

    Good read. Is relevance to social media what insight is to marketers perhaps? Then influence would be to social media what mass is to marketers…

  • http://edlee.ca ed lee

    great point mark. the truth is that there are very few people who exert the sort of influence that clients are promised – i.e. that can spurn a tonne of conversation with a single post or tweet – and those guys and gals are inundated with people trying to win and woo them.

    i believe clients should be looking at influencers as part of a hybrid approach that cements their own influence with consumers – through thought leadership and entertaining, compelling and, yes, relevant, content.

    ed

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  • http://www.gallery.ca Colin Chen

    I think this article illustrates your point beautifully:
    http://media.twitter.com/1058/science-hashtag

    …especially the point about Katy Perry: high influence, low relevance.

  • http://www.exploringdigital.com Jamey

    Great perspective on the relevance vs. influence discussion. I agree with your assertion that relevance is critical for a business so that it can clearly align it’s activities to it’s strategic goals. For “social media” to truly impact the business, it needs to be relevant to the long-term strategy and ultimately, customer needs. Thanks for the post.

  • http://www.karimkanji.com karim kanji

    Mark,

    I think relevance will be one of the dominating conversations in 2011 and moving forward. Especially when it comes to businesses and brands. There is a little Toronto outfit called big time that has developed a tool called “Pulse”. They are friends of mine and can be found at http://www.bigtimedesign.ca/pulse/

    kk

    • http://www.markevanstech.com Mark Evans

      Karim,

      Thanks for the comment. I’ve met with the guys doing Pulse, which has lots of interesting potential so looking forward to how it evolves.

      Mark

  • http://www.matizmo.co.uk Jake Coventry

    Nice article. Really interesting point you have made – “If a company can figure out how its social media efforts can be relevant to what it wants to achieve strategically and tactically, it can achieve its objectives and goals…”