Will Social Marketing Kill Social Learning?

Twitter may be the hottest thing online right now, and is probably the fastest growing social networking tool around. Twitter is all over the news, both online and traditional. Everyone from Barack Obama to the Chihuahua next door has a Twitter account. It’s becoming as commonplace as email.

A couple of days ago ZDNet posted an article about a commercial Twitter spamming tool. Not surprisingly, I heard about the article on Twitter. Twitter spam is nothing new. If you’ve had an account for more than a couple of days, you’ve probably gotten followers who are spammers trying to get you to follow them. The article got me thinking about the negative impact social marketing  has on social learning.

Twitter seems to be changing from a fun way to connect and share into a promotional tool. I got hooked on twitter because I enjoyed reading little snippets about what people were up to. I’ve found a lot of great resources through Twitter. From that perspective, Twitter is a great social learning tool. You can find resources and even get help from your Tweeps (people you follow or who follow you).

I think social marketing could negatively impact social learning. With so many companies getting accounts and pushing their products and services, it’s becoming harder and harder to find value in individual tweets. Companies don’t seem to really understand Social Marketing. Social marketing works when Person A tweets about a product and gets Person B interested. Person B then passes it on to others, and so on.

Just because a company has a Twitter account does not mean it uses social marketing. Using a social networking tool to spam us with ads is not social marketing. At that point it is just advertising, and I get plenty of that already. Social marketing is also not viral marketing. They are very different and companies need to learn the difference.

For me the value of the resource or tweet comes from the source. If B.J. Schone or Tony Karrer posts a link about training, I’ll check it out. They are real people who contribute to the online community. Company X posting links to their own white papers do not have the same value for me and I probably won’t follow the link. More precisely, I won’t follow them to begin with.

I’ve noticed a sharp increase in the number of followers I’ve gotten over the past month or so. I usually wait a few days before checking out their profile, and about half the time the account has been suspended by the time I check it out. I don’t typically follow people unless their profile indicates we have something in common, either professionally or personally.

At least with Twitter we have control. I don’t have to follow every entity that follows me and I can block ones that really offend me. I can unfollow people who do nothing but promote themselves or the companies they work for. I can follow cool services like @php that will help me, or people like @DarthVader that make me laugh, or people like JC Hutchins that I’m a fan of. I can still take advantage of social learning, but I first have to separate the signal from the noise.

Twitter is still awesome even though corporations, spammers, and “social marketers” have jumped on the band wagon. We just have to not follow them. You should measure the value of Twitter by the quality of the people, real people, that you connect with, not by the number of followers you have.  Twitter and other social tools have the power to be great learning resources, just don’t let the spam get in the way. Now I have to go reduce my Twitter noise.

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