Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is Social Media Only About Popularity? Or is Bloomberg BusinessWeek Wrong About the Need to Be Popular

The current issue of Bloomberg BusinessWeek has a cover story on popularity.

The thesis of the article is:
Popularity is not a state of grace. In business, it is treasure hard-won on the battlefields of product development and marketing, then leveraged or squandered or stolen back. Most of the products and ideas showcased here—the stuff we buy, sell, and otherwise consume the most—owe their status in part to aggressive sales tactics, from knocking on doors to strong-arming grocers to gain the best shelf space. In its most potent and permanent form, however, popularity transcends sales pitches, advertising, fads, and maybe even conscious choice.
Yet I found I didn't like the article. True, it was filled with interested factoids about which brands or more popular -- Jif or Skippy, vanilla ice cream vs. chocolate, bananas vs. apples -- but there's not much in the way of useful, actionable lessons from the extended article.

We know that Jif outsells Skippy, than vanilla ice cream is more popular in-home and that Americans buy more white-colored cars than other color (black is the second most popular). But in my reading of the article, there was limited value in knowing which brands, products. etc. are more popular.

We learn that "With nearly a billion dollars in annual sales, Lay's market share dwarfs that of its rivals," but not why so many of us buy so many of Lay's potato chips.

The article seems to suggest in an age of social media, being popular is the end goal. That would be llike living in a perpetual high school environment.

Yet Bloomberg BusinessWeek acknowledges in passing that it's not all about being popular. In a separate, online only article, "Popularly Unpopular," Arik Hesseldahl reports makes an important point about popularity: "Why does the most popular social network rank next to last in a customer satisfaction survey?"

In other words, you don't need to be popular or well liked to be necessary.

I know we're all trying to get as many followers as possible on Twitter, the largest number of fans of Facebook, and links to our blogs. But I think if your goal is merely to sit at the cool table in the high school lunch room in the social media cafeteria, you're focusing on the wrong variable.

Let me know what you think. Is my take a popular or unpopular perspective?

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