I was speaking with a client of mine today and it became apparent that the value I thought I might bring to his organization was about 3 steps ahead of the reality of the situation. I admit that I can be quick to jump to some form of a social media ‘solution’ for a client without helping them become what is too often assumed about businesses in the age of the social web: aware of social media and its many facets.
You may be scratching your head and wondering what that means. If you are then you are likely in the industry and have long ago forgotten that social media isn’t second nature to about 95% of the world despite our industry’s attitude that “everyone knows the importance of social media!”
What happens is that most people know that they should at least say that they know the importance of social media. Heck, you wouldn’t want to be left out of the ‘cool kids’ clique would you? As a result many marketers say the right words because the social media industry has lapped most business people with social media buzz words long ago. What the industry has not done well though is help people understand what the social media world is like and in particular what it is like for their section of the business universe.
So this awareness needs to occur slowly and without a condescending sigh of “I can’t believe you don’t know this stuff” which social media ‘experts and gurus’ are quick to do. Why that happens is beyond me but that’s a different matter altogether.
If you are a marketer who is looking for information about this brave new social media world or if you are an ‘expert’ trying to engage a company in a project you need to slam on the brakes before there is any mention of Twitter accounts transforming customer service (insert tired old Comcast case study here) or adding revenue (insert tired old but recently updated Dell case study here). Before there is talk of finally getting that corporate blog rolling or having Facebook fan page that will instantaneously transform your business into a sleek 21st century marketing bullet train just stop, look and listen. Become aware of your surroundings before you try to conquer them.
So what to be aware of?
Aware of what social media actually is – Beyond the tools what is social media and how does that definition potentially apply to your business, if at all. Oh yes, there is a real possibility that you will not need to tweet and post and update status 24/ 7 because your industry may not require that level of involvement.
Aware of your competition’s social media level of commitment – Not to say that you ‘play down’ to the level of your competition if they are not doing anything in social media. That may be a great time for your company to get a first mover advantage. It’s not even to say that you need to be a social media ‘rock star’ if your competition is hitting a social media home run. You should have a complete knowledge of your top 3-5 competitors efforts, though, before you even think about your own. They may help you avoid mistakes or help you ID weak spots to exploit.
Aware of your customers’ social media IQ – What if you put together the most perfect plan for Twitter, Facebook etc, etc but your customers and potential customers don’t give a rip? It may not mean that you stop engaging in the social media activities but you may redirect them and try to find people who are in the game rather than trying to make your customers come along for a ride they are not prepared to take.
Aware of your own capabilities – This applies to both personal capabilities and that of team members that be ‘volunteered’ or actually volunteer to help in social media efforts. Beware of the employee who sees this as a way to know the boss better but can’t write a coherent sentence.
Aware of the potential costs – Despite a lot of hoopla to the contrary, social media is not even close to being free. It may not require a lot of hard cash outlay but the costs in time and the sacrifice of other work all carry associated costs. You must be aware of these things before even considering putting a social media plan in place.
Aware of the risk – Social media carries no guarantees. Much like how search marketing used to be sold though (We’ll get you #1 rankings!) the social media landscape is rife with snake oil salesman (see this BusinessWeek article for a look at this issue) who proclaim that social media is an elixir that cures all marketing and sales ills. That’s just nonsense and sales guy closer talk. Don’t pay attention to it for a second.
Aware of the potential – Despite all of the apparent caution you need to exhibit there may very well be some real opportunity for success in several areas through social media.
Aware of expectations – If you need to report up the food chain you will need to be completely aware of the upper level management expectations of a social media program. They may only hear that it’s free and is the marketing panacea they have been looking for. This can be the most costly of all things to be unaware of.
So the lesson here is to go into any social media engagement with your eyes wide open. Invest in up front analysis of all of the areas mentioned here. Then you will be well informed enough to decide whether all hype comes anywhere near your reality.
Best wishes. Here’s to social media awareness being the norm.