Social Media Fragmentation vs. Segmentation

Susan Talbert Evans wrote a great post about the difference between fragmentation and segmentation when it comes to social media.

My university (11-12,000 students) is about to enter into this discussion so this is a timely, well thought out piece. I work in a centralized comm department and my recent census of school related social media accounts turned up what I consider a whopping 240 Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flickr accounts (I haven’t canvassed for blogs yet). Our school largely operates under an anything goes policy when it comes to social media which has enabled this kind of growth.

Susan’s belief is that social media works better when accounts are allowed to grow organically. They’re apt to be more authentic and focused compared to more general and centrally controlled accounts. She lists four reasons why and I agree with her rationale. Her central point is that more accounts doesn’t necessarily equate to fragmentation to message and brand, but instead can be thought of as beneficial segmentation.

I’m all for segmentation as Susan describes it, but surely when there’s a ratio of 50 students for every social account as is the case for my institution, we’re seeing less segmentation and more fragmentation, right? Hard to tell given that I don’t have the time to do a systematic audit of what each account is saying and doing. However, I’m willing to accept that the overall number of accounts isn’t as important as whether each account is a vibrant community that provides value to the participants that exceeds the costs that go into making and maintaining the community. Again, that’s hard to measure though I’m willing to grade leniently on the value vs. cost comparison.

That leaves me in a position of experimentation. Our school has hundreds of outposts across third party networks which is great (go where the people are, right?). But with so many options, how does one know where to find the right community- or communities- to join? How do we ensure people aren’t being sent the same messages over and over again across different accounts (and is that even perceived as a problem by our audiences?)? These sorts of questions beg for centralized coordination which, in turn, may suggest centralized systems, processes and management. Too bureaucratic for internal staff? Maybe, probably. No one likes change nor big brother looking over their shoulder no matter how benevolent that oversight might be. But its a discussion worth having and will be one of the core concepts that our school discusses as we dive into the topic.

Research will surely bring light and objectivity to the discussion and it will take place, but for now, my belief (as always to anyone who reads this blog) is that operations should be centralized while content creation should be decentralized. To me, that strikes a balance between being too bogged down in red tape and the brand being too easily diluted. More to come on this topic…