Nobody Reads What Your Company Posts -- and That's a Good Thing

Last Updated Sep 1, 2010 1:46 PM EDT

Last week there was a miniature to-do of the sort that high tech enjoys in the dog days of summer, sometime between the last scandal and Apple's (AAPL) annual early September new iPod model kick-off. In this case, technology media personality Leo Laporte realized that his social media feed on Google (GOOG) Buzz was offline for two weeks and no one seemed to notice (including him). He assumed that no one had paid attention in the first place (presumably still including him). Then new media consultant Louis Gray pointed out that too much goes by too fast on a social media stream to realize that one particular entity was suddenly quiet.

Good. Too many people -- and companies -- have fallen into the I-gotta-talk-about-me-so-someone-pays-attention crowd. It's a waste of time, energy, money, brainpower, and effort. Most people don't care because they have no reason to, and by playing to everyone, you ignore the particular people you might do well to address. The problem is that people tend to make two mistaken assumptions: communication itself is the goal, and that the bigger the audience, the better. For the first point, here's Loren Feldman of 1938 Media on a pretty good rant:


Filling social media channels with "stuff" is fine if you're tied in with a group of friends, family, colleagues, and acquaintances who are fine with water cooler and over-the-backyard-fence talk. I do it myself. But there's a difference between informal updates for people who know you to some degree and trying to market, whether it's selling ideas or products. As the connection grows thinner, so does the tolerance.

Marketing via social media is a tough balance. No one wants to hear a steady stream of talk about yourself. If you can't understand what is important to the customer or prospect, you will only drive people away. Even if you rack up a significant number people following you, most may have stopped listening but not gotten around to dropping off your list.

That leads to the other problem. Very few businesses are actually interested in reaching everyone, because most people will never be serious prospects, let alone customers. Specific needs, geography, budget, compatibility, personal taste -- the possible reasons that someone would be uninterested in a company, product, or service are numerous.

Furthermore, many people or companies who could, in theory, be potential customers for a business would be terrible choices. They might not buy in enough volume or require higher discounts than you'd be willing to give. Some might want too much support and others, not enough to ensure an accurate match of needs to product.

Any company that uses social media should concentrate on reaching the right people with relevant communications. Do that, and there's a business advantage. It doesn't matter if, on the whole, no one is reading so long as the right few do.

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    Erik Sherman is a widely published writer and editor who also does select ghosting and corporate work. The views expressed in this column belong to Sherman and do not represent the views of CBS Interactive. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikSherman or on Facebook.