News Column

Social Media Gurus Debate Merits

May 13, 2013

Social media is worthless. Social media is essential.

Those contrasting views were on display March 21 at Benjamin Steakhouse in White Plains in a debate over the value of social media presented by the Business Journals and Wag magazine.

On one side was marketing consultant Brandon Mendelson, author of "Social Media is (Expletive)." On the other side was Kristen Ruby, founder and CEO of Mount Kisco-based Ruby Media Group L.L.C. and a social media marketing and public relations strategist. Ted Miller of Mount Kisco-based DataKey Consulting L.L.C. also participated in the debate, which was moderated by Elizabeth Bracken-Thompson of Thompson and Bender L.L.C., a public relations firm based in Briarcliff.

When they weren't trading barbs, Ruby and Mendelson were espousing the merits, or in Mendelson's case, the pointlessness of social media.

"It allows you to communicate and aggregate your content," Ruby said, referring to sites like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.

Mendelson called social media a buzzword created by corporations, allowing them to continue to control the balance of power.

"Social media involves a very vocal minority," Mendelson said.

Ruby spoke about the impact social media has had with her clients. Benjamin Steakhouse and teamed up for a holiday party that later turned into an event to mark 26 Acts of Kindness, an initiative started by journalist Ann Curry after the Sandy Hook shooting. The companies used social media to get the word out, and Curry even showed up, having heard about it through Twitter.

"That's just good marketing," Mendelson retorted. "It had nothing to do with social media. Sandy Hook was everywhere; it was a major news story. It was brilliant marketing."

Mendelson argued about the usefulness of Twitter, claiming that only 15 percent of people use it and most of its users are journalists, like Curry. He maintains a Twitter account and said most of his followers are fake, created by companies with the purposes of spamming.

Ruby said that there is still a place for media like print, and said it is important that companies fully integrate.

"The best campaigns still use print," Ruby said. "In the old days there was just one medium. You have to use multiple channels."

Miller said that social media has made word of mouth very important, given the speed information spreads. He said that while consumers will trust advertisers only 29 percent of the time, they trust friends on social media 92 percent of the time.

"It's staggering," Miller said. "People's voices have been amplified and are being heard loud and clear."

Mendelson said that social media has been really good for social media marketers. He said The Coca-Cola Co. did a study and found it did not get a boost from social media, and that most companies don't have the resources to spend on social media.

Ruby said many industries have benefitted from putting themselves out there via social media. Retailers and restaurants have seen boosts from offering exclusive coupons only on Facebook, for example.

In 2009, Mendelson traveled across the country to raise money for breast cancer charities. He generated lots of followers on Twitter and many "Likes" on Facebook, but they did not translate into actual dollars.

"It was a live demonstration that social media doesn't work," Mendelson said. "You can't qualify social media with sales."

Ruby said that Mendelson became bitter toward social media because of his failed fundraising efforts, drawing "000s" from the crowd.

"Your book is the dumbest thing I've ever heard," Ruby said.

Bruce Newman, vice-president of Carmel-based Productivity Institute L.L.C., a company that specializes in social media marketing, said all three panelists made very good points about the merits or demerits of social media.

"Who won?" Newman said. "It really depends on your perspective."

For more stories covering the world of technology, please see HispanicBusiness' Tech Channel

Source: Copyright Westchester County Business Journal (NY) 2013

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