tedster - 3:06 pm on Sep 15, 2012 (gmt 0) [edited by: tedster at 8:44 pm (utc) on Sep 15, 2012]
I can't see this as such a black and white, yes-or-no issue. I am also an old-time web user (1993) and I started actively doing SEO for my sites in 1996. So I also was not in tune with the rise of social media and certainly was not an early adopter.
However, despite the clear manipulations of fake Likes, robot Twitter accounts, etc - there is a very real signal here and both Google and Bing are working to figure out how to tap into it. And the social media sites are also working hard to clean up the spammy issues, too.
I attended a conference a few years ago that opened my eyes to the value of social media. After that "awakening" I explored the territory for a while - and then started a thread called SEO is from Mars, SMM is from Venus [webmasterworld.com] to share something of the change of mind that I had gone through.
Yes, there really is a graduated spectrum of influential people using social media and they can be identified. Yes, the search engines both know this and they are working to figure out how to tap into these signals - and what mix of old search signals and new social signals can provide value.
My approach now is not to get stuck in the old days - they are gone.
When I went through my change of mind, it was like the scales fell from my eyes. After all, what am I really doing with these websites? I'm trying to market a business. And building contacts and good will with real people is a VERY important step in promoting a business.
Thinking that online businesses are something totally abstracted from real human beings is not a balanced approach, as I see it. And Google knows this. They may not have the formula right at the moment - in fact, I don't think they do, because I don't think enough IR professionals anywhere are all that "social" to begin with. But there is an extremely valuable signal in social media and I have no doubt they are chasing it.
PS: If you haven't read "The Anatomy of Buzz" by Emanuel Rosen (now in a second edition called "The Anatomy of Buzz Revisted"), I do recommend the book.
[edited by: tedster at 8:44 pm (utc) on Sep 15, 2012]