Stephen Baker

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My last BW story: Social Media Snake Oil

December 4, 2009General

My last BusinessWeek story just came out. It's about social media "snake oil," and I had all kinds of troubles writing it. As I wrote yesterday, I started with an entirely different lead and focused more on start-up consultants who amassed big piles of Twitter followers and Facebook fans, and then used them to market themselves as experts. In the end, they didn't seem so important to my editors.

The challenge in the story was writing about the difficulty of measuring social media results, and the piles of jargon generated by the industry, without leading to conclusion that the whole thing is BS. Some people believe that, of course. But as I wrote at the bottom of the story:

The risk is that a backlash against the consultants' easy promises could reduce social media investments just as the industry takes off. Think back to the dot-com boom a decade ago. Soaring valuations were based initially on promise and hype. In early 2000, when investors started focusing on scarce profits, the market collapsed. But many companies drew the wrong conclusions. Believing the fall of a hyped market was a sign of the failed promise of the Internet, they drew back on Internet investments. This happened just as the technology was on the verge of living up to much of its promise, dominating global communications, transforming entire industries—and spawning social media.

 

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