Monday, March 5, 2012

Gartner Speaks But Will Social Media Listen?

Gartner Inc., "the world's leading information technology research and advisory company" released today a report detailing some issues they feel are critical to the continued importance of social media.

According to their most recent report, soon nearly every company in the world will be using social media to promote their brand, market their products or vet their employees and potential employees. If this use of social media as a business tool is to succeed in the coming years, Gartner says, social media sites will need to start making some fixes to how they work.

Specifically, Gartner talks about the existing levels of anonymity on the Social Web. This, they say, works against companies who need to rely on these services as legitimate business tools. This is a point in favor of Google+ which has put severe limitations on the ability of users to create accounts under nicknames or pseudonyms. It is also a wake-up call for all social media sites to start thinking about the way businesses use their services, and not just individuals.

Lately I have been grappling with the new Facebook Timeline feature for Business Pages. I don't like them. I realize I am in the minority (at least I feel that way) but I have good reason. I don't like Timeline for pages because it blurs the line between individual profiles and business profiles (pages.) What works for one, should not and likely will not, work for the other.

Individuals and businesses have specific differences in the way they use social media and want to use social media. The Pages feature is clearly trying to bridge this gap, so I think that sends the wrong message.

Personally, I use social media (Facebook in particular) to connect with my friends and family. I like knowing that my page is my own and distinct from a branded page which many writers and social media managers use.

People know the difference between a personal profile and a brand page because of the way they look. A brand page is made for people who want to interact with the brand. It allows (or rather, it did) the business to create and organize the page however they wished. Now, everyone, people and businesses alike, use the same format with severe limitations in how they can make their page/profile look different.

It seems to me, if I am understanding this Gartner report correctly, that Facebook made a big mistake with its latest move. Instead of helping companies find a way to further legitimize their use of social media they created a new format, a new design for them to follow, and did some things which have severely limited their ability to individualize their page. (Specifically, the Centerpiece photo, but also the way their Timeline, if they are a new business, will reflect that point rather obviously.)

Gartner made some very valid points about the increasing use of social media by all businesses and the benefits they may derive from it. But they also pointed out some serious flaws in the way the Social Web currently conducts business. If they expect to be treated like a business tool, they need to start acting more like a business tool and less like a cool place to hang out.

I am curious: Am I the only one who sees the new Timeline feature as a limitation for business? Let me know in the comments below.

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