Is social media marketing overrated?

Today, I found a twitter link to a rather interesting post by Nagi Salloum on his blog titled "Is social media marketing overrated?" He makes some very solid points, and I couldn't disagree with his position or his opening gambit. He's left the forum open for comments, so I did. But so check out his blog as well. Here's my response...

This is an on-going debate, and I think the jury will stay out for a while. Good points made regarding twitter in the UAE. However, there are quite a few rather active tweeps who are very, very open to businesses/corporates reaching them. In fact, they almost feel compelled to help the cause. But, agree that we are not reaching a huge %age of the population. There are a few businesses who are doing ok, wildpeeta, thedubaimall, rakbank etc among them.

Facebook? Well, I've seen/heard different numbers and different claims. Globally, increasingly, corporates are engaging via facebook – because they feel that while the facebook audience is already in a fairly 'communicative' and 'receptive' mode, it wouldn't be such a bad idea trying to have a conversation with them.

Blogging? Not much there unless you're talking to niche and special interest groups. But overall, to dismiss social media as a possible and future-feasible marketing tool would be premature. I recall some pundits who had predicted that the internet would never take off in this country (too much of a mall culture, and people are not really online savvy. Wrong.). So, it is a wait and see game.

And who's the SM expert? You're right about the whole genre being so young, so unchartered. Yet, those who are shining, those who seem to possess some grasp of what's hot, what's not, are the early adopters. Those who've jumped in shallow end and kept swimming. Social media after all is about communicating and engaging in dialog. Those that are pushing marketing slogans down the consumers throats aren't experts. They're just exploiting the genre(or trying to). But those who really get it, are the ones who don't have huge expectations, who know the advantage of being first-to-market, and clearly, those who've realized that social media is about listening first, speaking after.

Social hibernation or rejuvenation.

Around four weeks ago (though it does seem like much, much longer) I did a ziplip, or a self imposed embargo on all social fronts, or at least on all fronts except on twitter. Truth be told, I went off it. Not sick of it, or tired of social, but just kind of decided to creep back behind a rock. I went off on holiday, and except for the odd tweet and a couple of foursquare updates, I laid low. And, frankly, it was a much needed hiatus. A sabbatical of sorts, where my only social activity was hanging out at clubs in Calcutta, India. Not night clubs. But clubs. The way old clubs used to be. Where you get facetime, not facebook. Where the only tweet you hear is of real birds on the moist green rain soaked 18th hole. Or the only uploads that happen are when elbows are raised and pints are downed. That kind of social. And I loved it.

Calcutta is very much there as far as tech's concerned. It's by no means behind any city here in the Middle East. There's plenty of bandwidth, more than a dozen service providers, and connections are cheap as chips. But, yes, while the online set do facebook, and twitter and foursquare and youtube, they also are truly social. They meet at the club. They do tennis. They golf. They laze around and have a tall scotch and water or a rum. They enjoy life. Outside the virtual. In the real. And, I fell into that pattern.

I met old friends, family, acquaintances, and made new ones. Even though I was nursing a pretty bad back problem, I found the trip down to the clubs so relaxing, so real. Real people, with handshakes and hugs, not updates and uploads. The club was the Wall, and everybody was on it.

Club culture is a social thing that we here in Dubai just don't have. And many a die-hard has told me that in India, Calcutta is surely the last bastion of the 'old Club way'. All are meant for members only, and most of them have been around for decades if not centuries. My club, where I grew up, the Calcutta Cricket & Football Club is more than 220 years old. It is the oldest cricket club outside the British Isles. But there's much more than cricket there, although the gorgeous and grand cricket ground is the centre piece of it all. Sourav Ganguly, ex Indian captain is member. As is multiple Grand Slam doubles title winner Leander Paes. That's where Leander learnt to serve and volley. And more. Other clubs I dropped into for a drink or a meal were the absolutely grand Bengal Club (very posh, very puccah and proper koi hai style), and the famous Tollygunge Club, where the greens stretch for miles and the lazy afternoon disappears amidst darjeeling tea, early shots of gin and tonic into a dusk that's just the beginning of hard partying.

I digress. So, the question I ponder of course, is whether I did go into 'social' hibernation, or was it really a rebirth of my social being, where I had human contact, where I met real people and not avatars. I love staying in touch with my friends across the world on facebook, I like tweeting, I love connecting via youtube. But give me a rugby game to watch, give me a table full of friends, a round of drinks, and I'll take that anytime. That's social. And I'm missing it.