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Surviving the Brutish World of Social Marketing

Social media, properly used, is one of the greatest tools in history for selling a new product. Just look at the success of Old Spice, Three Wolf Moon shirts and Susan Boyle CDs after they went viral. If you can't get an audience with Oprah, a YouTube acclamation is the next best thing.

But after reading a blog post by Harvard Business School's Andrei Hagiu, an expert on business strategy, I'm beginning to to think a little deeper about the dark side of social media and how it increases already significant pressures on entrepreneurs.

In a blog post on HBR.org, Social Networks Will Change Product Innovation, Hagiu runs through the pluses and minuses that social media affords entrepreneurs. The pluses are well understood, and they come down to that it's much easier to create buzz, get on the map quickly, and to modify your product based on instant feedback.

But it was the negatives he listed that most got me thinking.

"The problem is," he writes. "that start-ups are now subjected to new and not necessarily desirable pressures, which are exclusively related to communication channels. In short, it is the 'fear of being left out' syndrome."

I think of this aspect as the 15 Minutes of Fame Cycle. Entering social media is like jumping into a washing machine, where you and your product are buffeted about without much control as to the outcome. All that is guaranteed is that you'll come out the other side shaken and bruised. Maybe richer, but probably not.

Once you are injected into the whirl, you are running against the clock to have your idea discovered, talked about, and either accepted or rejected. People you've never heard of are applying criteria you never considered to rate your product against competitors, and the discourse is not polite. They discuss their experience with it, and their experience with your staff and customer support department. Judgements are formed and quickly coalesce around one or a few winners, everyone else ejected to the dirty laundry pile of failed products.

So yes, the win for products that are applauded by social media can be staggering, but the losses are just as amplified. Your your one-star-out-of-five customer rating will live on in Google searches like an unbleachable sweat stain, influencing your ability to get not only more customers but also investor funding.

In this way, it's never been more emotionally challenging to be an entrepreneur, I believe. To compete in this environment, a new skill set is needed. Organizations must be designed to listen to and adapt quickly to consumer feedback. They have to be active participants in online conversations being held about their products. Start-up managers must be speed freaks, able to thrive in product cycles that take weeks or months rather than years. Perhaps most of all, entrepreneurs need to develop some mighty thick skin and emotional resilience to succeed.

What was your experience going through a Social Media 15 Minutes of Fame Cycle? Is their a dark side to the health of entrepreneurs from competing in a world increasingly governed by social media?

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(Image by Flickr user smemon87, CC 2.0)