Five notions about social media that must die

June 10, 2010

This Tuesday, we brought together a number of clients to share an evening of discussion about the issues their companies are facing with regard to social media. It was an interesting mix of people and businesses. Different industries, different problems, and a singular goal to learn from one another.

Some common themes emerged. What surprised me is that these themes are the same ones we have heard since we started taking social media seriously in 2004. While internally at our firm we feel we have come a long way in understanding the practice and implementation of social media for B2C and B2B communications, the fact is that most businesses can still be considered early adopters, even pioneers — despite the noise level and cheerleading around social media for PR, marketing, and branding.

Here are the five themes that were common to most, if not all of our friends around the table Tuesday night.

Theme #1: Management is concerned that we can’t control social media. We want control of our messages.

The Resolution: If you can’t control your social media communications, then you must not be controlling any of your other communications. Your people are talking to your customers, suppliers, and partners on the phone and in e-mail. They are already representing your company. They are already the public face of the company. And they are probably already using social media to communicate, regardless of your internal policies.

Social media is nothing more than another way, a new way, for your people to communicate. Companies need to train employees on how to use it, just as companies train employees on how to present in person, on the phone, and in e-mail. This is a policy and training problem, not a technology or control problem.

Theme #2: Social media puts us at risk. The legal department will not approve our use of it. It creates a digital trail that could get us in legal trouble.

The Resolution: Social media communications are no different than e-mail or the telephone. Anyone could take any e-mail from your staff and post it on a blog, Facebook page, or Twitter feed (and they do). They could record a phone call and post it as a podcast (and they have). And I don’t have to tell you that the first thing the lawyers subpoena in any case is the corporate e-mail database.

The discovery trail already exists, and you are already mitigating that risk with training and policies. Social media is exactly like e-mail in this regard. As with control, the legal question is answered with training and policy, not banning.

Theme #3: We’re afraid people will say bad things about us.

The Resolution: First, if you are considering starting a blog, here’s a surprise: You control what people post on it. If you’re considering engaging more broadly in social networks and forums (ideally monitoring the Web for mentions of your brand, and reacting to those mentions), then your involvement is a plus, not a minus. Because if you’re not managing your brand’s mentions online, someone else is — perhaps an angry customer.

This is no different than how you are monitoring the press for mentions of your brand, and responding when there is a negative or otherwise less than flattering review or coverage.

Why limit your reputation management only to card-carrying members of the press? You must recognize that your customers and industry pundits (who themselves are often consumers or business leaders) can impact your reputation just as effectively as the mainstream media. Monitor the press. Monitor the public. Ignore either at your peril.

Theme #4: Nobody has time for blogging or social networking.

The Resolution: You are already blogging and socially networking. You’re just doing it inefficiently. You call it e-mail. You call it a phone call. You call it lunch with a client. You call it relaxing with your netbook and reading the industry trades. If you can write an e-mail to a colleague or a customer about a problem, solution, or idea, you can write a blog post.

In fact, you can take those awesome e-mails that you sit back and marvel at before hitting “Send,” and learn to recognize them for what they also are: great commentary that just might be appreciated by a larger audience — an audience of prospects and existing customers who you could, and would, attract to your company website if only you were sharing your mind with more than one person at a time.

Likewise, if you can mull over problems and solutions on the drive in or the drive home, you can digitally or tape record those thoughts and turn them into a post. And when you’re surfing the Web and you read something that you think is interesting and valuable, is it too much to ask for you to click one button and share it on Twitter or Facebook or your blog? Why limit those shared links to your e-mail pals?

Ditto the topics you discuss at lunch. Sorry, but the “time hole” argument is a red herring that is, in truth, an excuse for not investing a little time to learn how to use the new media. Oh, and for the high-powered, time-pressed, hair-on-fire executives out there, it’s time to ask your PR guy or gal to help you leverage your e-mails, interests, appearances, and links. That’s what you’re paying them for today. And in most organizations, there’s nobody better suited to help.

Theme #5: We don’t have the budget for social media right now.

The Resolution: You can’t afford not to invest in social media. One participant at our dinner conversation generated $30 million in business, which he attributes entirely to his social media work. He doesn’t have a massive Twitter network or overflowing Facebook fan page, or even a company blog.

But by using social media to identify, attract, and network with the right prospects, he transformed his company’s marketing effectiveness. Imagine if his company had two, three, four people like him, doing what he does.

Another dinner guest saved $1 million in recruiting costs by attracting candidates through social networking, instead of buying ads on job sites. It took them over a year to get the corporate buy-in to go this route (even with their CEO as an advocate). But they didn’t give up. And now the savings are adding up.

Another guest cut his CPL from $150 to $120 by shifting the company’s marketing emphasis to social media. And the CPL is continuing to drop. Still another guest’s company is investing close to a $1 million annually in dead-trees media. He just completed an ROI analysis. His comment: “We might as well light a match to that money.”

He’s working with his CEO, also a believer in social media, to overcome internal concerns about the risks of going social. And I’m convinced he will, with the help of the peers he networked with here, in the real world, at Gregory FCA this week.

The nutshell: The emergence of social media as a business, customer service, marketing, and communications imperative is raising questions we have already wrestled with and answered. We raised these questions about websites in the 1990s. We raised them about e-mail in the 1980s. Is there any organization that doesn’t accept the fact that e-mail and websites are essential tools today?

In a few years, the same will be said about social media. You can wait and be late, and cede the early strike advantage to your competitors and upstarts. Or you can start exploiting your opportunities now by staking a claim, forming the government policies and procedures, and training your people.

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Joel Capperella
8 years 11 months ago

Greg, I like the perspective on the "time hole" argument – treating as a relearning of how to re purpose existing communication is an excellent way to facilitate the necessary volume of content needed to feed any social media strategy