Is Social Media Useful or just Ego-Boost?

With the rise of social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn comes a rise in a market designed to “teach” companies how to leverage social media sites for business purposes. But aside from marketing initiatives, are these sites really valuable for companies?

Of the various social media sites, the one I’ve seen used the most for non-marketing business uses is LinkedIn. While there are many people who see little to no value to the site, I’ve witnessed companies using the site for recruiting, locating service providers, and seeking business advice. I was hired at The Industry Standard based on working LinkedIn, and yet it’s the one social media site that always seems to be ignored or dismissed. It has the highest CPM rate for advertising of any social media site, and probably will be one left standing in the end.

Facebook and Twitter are probably on par in terms of usefulness for companies. Both can be used to build brand awareness, as well as pitch journalists, announce news in a less formal manner, and reach out to a different audience. Some people have had success with leveraging their contacts on the sites for jobs and partnerships, but the majority of the users seem to use the sites for their intent: socializing.

FriendFeed is the current darling of the tech set, and Duncan himself has been converted to a believer. The problem, however, is that there doesn’t seem to be a justifiable business case for using it, at least in its current incarnation. Those trying to woo the tech A-listers know it’s a necessity to keep up with the in-crowd gossip, but overall, the site has the feel of an upside-down high school cafeteria, with the nerds at the popular kid table and the cheerleaders left to their own devices over on MySpace and Facebook. The few companies or blogs who have set up rooms seem to use them only as one more way to publish a news feed, and even the site’s “recommended” users are, for the most part, empty profiles with newsfeeds but little participation.

Unfortunately, the sites with the most practical uses seem to be overlooked while those that prop up the flip-flopped social structure of tech geek supremacy seem to get the most appearances on the tech blogs. For any single post on the usefulness of LinkedIn, there are 100 about a new design at FriendFeed or an outage on Twitter. When it comes to being a viable site that can be used as a tool (and earn money to boot), odds are the sites that pump up your ego won’t be the ones that survive.