It occurred to me while participating in Social Media Club Greenville’s September panel yesterday that there are still MANY questions and misconceptions in the business world about Social Media. So without wasting any time, let’s cover a few obvious ones here today:
1. Misconception: Social Media only works for some companies.
That’s a lot like saying that the telephone, email or the web will only work for some companies. It’s nonsense.
Will Social Media have varying degrees of impact from one company (or industry, even) to the next? Sure. But we are talking about a lot of variables here, from budget limitations to a basic ability to execute. The medium in and of itself isn’t what works or doesn’t work:
Social Media, as a toolkit, as a set of channels, as a business process even is both industry- and brand-agnostic.
Whether you’re a florist, realtor, attorney, IT distributor, restaurateur, publisher, major global brand or government agency, Social Media can fit perfectly within your organization.
In our panel discussion this morning, a example of the type of company which might not be a good fit for a Social Media program was a bank or other type of company that might not be as popular as an Apple or a BMW. I disagree. Companies with image and public perception challenges should absolutely not shy away from using Social Media. Quite the contrary: They should look to Social Media as a means and an opportunity to address that pain point.
Look at what Comcast and Charter Cable are doing with customer service and engagement on Twitter, for example. These are cable companies! (Nobody likes their cable company.) Customer Service in that industry has been a joke for decades: You have a problem. You call the 1-800 number. 45 minutes and 15 transfers later, you finally realize that the guy on the other end of the line, the guy who hardly speaks English, the guy who has only been working in that call center for six weeks and is now the end of the line in this game of toll-free hot-potato can’t fix your problem any more than the previous 14. Enter @comcastcares (Comcast’s Frank Eliason) and the revolution in customer service he spawned by integrating social media into the company’s biggest public perception pain point: Customer Service. The result: Faster resolution times, for starters. Happier customers as a result. Great PR. And probably some decent cost savings to boot when you add it all together.
Another example: Men’s Health jumping into mobile content. (That’s right, Mobile.) The Social Media universe doesn’t stop with Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Youtube. There’s a lot more to this than the usual four or five social networking apps.
Trust me, if some cable companies and print publishing houses have figure out how to use Social Media to their advantage, any company can.
2. Misconception: By participating in Social Media, we will lose control of our image and/or message.
Will customers suddenly crash your strategy meetings via Seesmic? Will their Facebook updates derail your media buying? Will they somehow use Twitter to intercept and rewrite your press releases? Will they hack Seesmic to replace your next ad campaigns with their own? Will they use MySpace to brainwash your empoyees into acting like jerks?
Of course not.
By participating in Social Media the first thing you will do is open a window, not a door into whatever criticism may or may not exist outside the wire. The first thing you want to do when getting into Social Media is listen, not talk. Forget about the push tactics for a second. Don’t even think about pull tactics either. At first, just listen.
Just listen. And wait. And listen some more. Listen and learn. And then listen some more.
The first thing that happens when you get into Social Media (properly) is not a loss of control, but instead a gain in understanding of how people outside your organization – customers and not – feel about your company. The good and the bad, both are valuable. This is business intelligence. It’s market and situational awareness. It’s data and insight and information. Where is the loss of control in that?
Before it becomes anything else, Social Media is a tremendous listening tool. It’s a learning tool. The more time you spend using it that way upfront, the more time you spend learning how to monitor, measure, separate signal from noise, the easier it will be for you to hold on to the level of “control” over your brand you feel comfortable with.
Learn these channels. Take the time to become comfortable, familiar, then fluent with them. Baby steps, grasshopper. Before you can rock the big surf, you have to learn how to balance yourself on your board. Start at the beginning.
Control is media-agnostic. Learn the channel, learn the landscape, learn how this ecosystem works, and you won’t have to worry about “control.” Social Media is no different from email, trade shows or the water-cooler.
Misconception 3: Social Media is just a fad.
Not unless people stop doing two things: a) talk to each other, and b) give up technology (especially portable technology). No? They aren’t going to do either? Are you sure? Okay, so Social Media probably isn’t going away then. Though I’ll give you this: Social Media will change. It will morph into something a lot less… “media” and a lot more app-based and organic.
In terms of where Social Media will be in 5 years, think less “web” and more “widget”: The growth of mobile, an inceasingly U.I. savvy public and the age of the open API are driving this evolution. Before you know it, “Social” technology will be more about creating increasingly thin, fast and intelligent connective layers than developing massive databases like the ones we now know as Facebook, Twitter and Myspace. (And yes, you should think of them in this way. Peek behind the veil a little if you ever get a chance.)
So don’t worry about Social Media going away anytime soon. Social Media will continue to merge with all other technologies, from your phone to your TV to your car to your fridge to other every day objects, which means it’s here to stay. As a result of a) our need to connect and share and communicate and b) our passion for gadgets, in ten years, the lines between technology and face-to-face interactions will be a lot more blurred than they are today. Social Media will be embedded into everything – hopefully not in an annoying or intrusive way… but you never know.
Back when personal computers started becoming mainstream, I had conversations with business owners who said computers would be a fad. They were wrong.
Back when the web started becoming mainstream and companies began to build websites, I had conversations with business owners who said the web would be a fad. “Why the hell would we ever want to have a website?” was the mentality. They were wrong.
When cell phones started becoming mainstream, I had conversations with business owners who said they would be a fad. They were wrong.
I am sure the same thing was said of the television, and the regular telephone and automobiles and wrist-watches. Those people were wrong too. This is no different. Get on this train now, before everyone does, and you will have an advantage. Wait, and you won’t. It’s that simple. If the convergence of communications, technology and culture were a fad, I wouldn’t waste my time hanging out here.
Okay, that’s all you get for now. We’ll revisit this soon. Have a great Tuesday, everyone.