The "inbound social media" research grew to massive proportions, then underwent mitosis to become three separate documents, because it's difficult to encapsulate the discipline of using social media. Like any new field, social media are fraught with both opportunity and risk.

In the particular application that I was investigating, social media as a new source of requirements data, people can commit the same mistakes with this new source of information as they have with the old ones. For example, important players in the product development process often make decisions based on the customer with whom they last spoke. An equally common temptation is to listen to customers who echo what you want to hear, and disregard the rest.

In the best possible circumstance, you get a single person who appears representative of a larger user population, gives you credible insights, and even articulates their needs clearly. The obvious problem is that you're only listening to  one person, who will never be 100% representative of the larger population. That's especially bad if the population contains distinct segments of people with different needs, habits, and skills, and you have to build something that fits the bill for more than one of these cohorts.

If you're not taking advantage of the opportunity to use social media to collect more data than you could through traditional, labor-intensive methods  (for example, customer meetings), you're missing a big part of the reason for paying attention to social media in the first place.

And if you don't believe me, take a look at this item from The Guardian about how British businesspeople went gaga over a single 15 year-old intern's analysis of how teenagers use social media. To be fair, both traditional and social media contributed to the buzz around the document. But that's the point: you can repeat all the mistakes of old media when using new media.

[Cross-posted at The Heretech.]