Making a business case for social media

You don't have to like or get social media -- just don't let that prejudice shut you out of business opportunities

Dear Bob ...

I'm an aging CIO. I know I'm aging because I don't get Facebook, MySpace, or Twitter, and even LinkedIn makes me uncomfortable.

[ Also on InfoWorld, an Advice Line reader asks: "When starting a business, are LinkedIn and Facebook enough?" | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to have face-to-face conversations than Facebook conversations. I think these electronic substitutes for human relationships are taking us all in some unfortunate directions, which is why so far I haven't paid much attention to the younger staff members who have been telling me we need to get on board with social networking.

What do you think, Bob? Is social media a good thing or a bad thing?

- Old timer

Dear Old Timer ...

You have, I'm afraid, fallen for the logical fallacy Richard Dawkins once dubbed "Argument from Personal Incredulity," or "API" for short.

You don't get social media. I can't argue with that -- it's a statement of fact.

You think it's taking human relationships in unfortunate directions? I doubt it. It's certainly taking them in different directions than what you and I are comfortable with, but our comfort doesn't define good and bad. If it did, it would be proof of something I've always suspected: Beets are evil and should be eradicated, or at least banned from salads.

I don't get beets. Other people do. For the most part we leave each other alone, except when I offer the beets that came with my meal to a companion (good for both of us) or they try to persuade me to give beets another try (bad for our relationship).

I don't get social media either, for that matter -- at least, not entirely. My perspective, though, is that I'd better figure it out, because something important is going on out there. Huge numbers of people are becoming friends with huge numbers of other people they've never met, exchanging views, gossip, trivialities, and other information about each other. They're doing it online instead of face to face, which also means they're able to do so with people who live in other countries and cultures. That's something you and I can't do face to face, to our detriment.

Last I looked, Facebook alone had something like 100 million subscribers. I'd be willing to bet some of them are your company's customers, which means if your company isn't interested in meeting them there, your competitors will be able to interact with them in a medium you've shut yourself out of.

Not good business.

So if you don't get social media and you're supposed to be the person who leads your company's technology strategy, I'd suggest the problem isn't with the social media.

- Bob

This story, "Making a business case for social media," was originally published at

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.