Mythbusting “Facebook and Business Don’t Necessarily Mix”

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A quick peek into some research (and some “mythbusting”) on a post by Christopher Null on Yahoo News titled “Facebook and business don’t necessarily mix.” Great, catchy headline. But does it really reflect the underlying research from MIT? I don’t think so. I will also share some comments posted on the PDMA blog from a study by Kalypso that don’t sync up with the commentary. And, I will provide an opportunity for you to speak your mind by participating in a current research study on social media and product innovation.

Commentary and Reactions

I don’t know the author of the post, but when I read it something didn’t sit right with me. For the most part, maybe it was that the title of the post didn’t match the underlying premise. To be fair, I know that some editorial gets “help” with their titles to grab attention (which this one certainly did, at least to me). But here are my thoughts (and feel free to “bust” them yourself, I realize I don’t own all the right answers).

Facebook and Business Don’t Necessarily Mix (Busted) – OK, I know I am picking on the title. But let’s own up to two realities:

1. You don’t have a choice. People on social networks are going to talk about your products. Whether you initiate the conversations or someone else does (customers or competitors), it is going to happen. As the post in PDMA “Do you use social media in innovation?” points out, Social media on your terms is a much better idea than letting others take control of it for you. You MUST get ahead of this.

2. This isn’t what the MIT research says. The post Mr. Null references, “Pitch may fail on Facebook – Study: Social media don’t always create good buzz“, is much more aptly titled. What is says is that buzz can be positive or negative, and that it can actually hurt sales. According to the Boston Herald blog, the research (which I haven’t read, and is not published yet as far as I know) quotes the author as saying that “found that online buzz only helps when new products are at least half as good as consumers expected.” Now that is interesting! The author, P.J. Lamberson, an MIT Sloan School of Management visiting assistant professor, is said to use math to study large networks.

“Conventional Wisdom” (Plausible) – Mr. Null starts his article with “conventional wisdom now holds that if you want to have a successful product launch, you need to exploit Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace to get the word out about your product.” Is this really conventional wisdom? Are most companies using social media today? My experience says no, but I could be wrong. I will admit, my focus is more on social computing for product innovation, product development, and engineering (PLM) and not product launch. But my experience says that companies are experimenting with the use of social media, but it is far from standard operating procedure. The only evidence I have is from some preliminary results from the study being run by Kalypso (Disclosure: I am helping them run the study) that indicates that the use of social networking and social computing in product launches is still not fully developed. In fact, only about 1/2 of companies are using social media for product launch. Further, companies that are using social media are only using it on a small percentage of their initiatives. In other words, we are very early in the use of social media, and it is far from conventional wisdom. On the other hand, the preliminary results show that about 90% of companies that are using social media for innovation are planning to increase usage next year, with none indicating they were reducing it.  Why is this Plausible and not Busted? The research is not done – please participate in the survey and I will share results back with you via the blog.

Bottom Line (Busted) – After being generous with the last mark, I was fully planning to Confirm the post’s bottom line. Then I read it again to copy it here, and I disagree. “The bottom line is simple: Viral marketing, in which a conversation about a product is actively encouraged, can turn good or bad in ways that traditional marketing and advertising typically cannot. Unless a business pays careful attention to the tone of that conversation, the company could find itself shelling out millions on a viral ad campaign, only to have the unwanted effect of decreasing sales instead of increasing them.” I copied the whole comment over, because I agree with the first part. Yes, viral marketing can turn bad. But then it says business need to pay attention to the tone of the conversation. The underlying study (from what I can see) doesn’t say that. It says that your products have to meet expectations. In other words, it’s saying you can’t just manage the tone because it is out of your control.

Implications for Manufacturers
So what should manufacturers do? Learn from the study. What I hear is don’t over-hype your products, and don’t try to push a bad product through social media. It seems to me the harder you push how great a product is, the more likely you are to get dissenting view from customers. The study doesn’t say your product has to be good, it just has to meet expectations at least half-way.

Continue to experiment and learn. Social media is changing the way we interact with products. Be a part of the change and experiment. The last bit or preliminary data I will share from the Kalypso study is that those that are doing it are seeing business benefits (revenue, time to market, reduced cost). This is real, get on it.

So that was a quick peek into some recent research on social networking and business, I hope you found it interesting. Does the research reflect your experiences? Do you see it differently? Let us know what it looks like from your perspective. Please feel free to review free research and white papers about product innovation and product development from Tech-Clarity.