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There are hundreds of statistical guides showing the beneficial effects of having a presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and any number of other networks, but the despite all the buzz there still seems to be a lag in adoption, with a large amount of small to mid-level businesses choosing to opt out of the social sphere.
It’s easy to assume this is down to a lack of knowledge regarding the benefits, but are there legitimate obstacles which are making companies decide that social media isn’t for them?
I decided to look at some of the more common issues facing groups deciding whether or not they need a social media presence:
1. I don't trust staff with my message.
If you really want to have a successful online social media presence, then it’s important that you trust your team, something which many CEOs still seem to be reluctant to do. It’s easy to brief your marketing team on what you want to say and how, but more difficult when it comes to controlling the tweets of entry-level staff.
One of the most important things you need to understand about social media is that it isn’t about controlling the message. There’s no room for shouting ‘we are the best’, instead, you need to ask people ‘What do you think?’
You need to stop seeing the separation between customers and employees, and instead treat them as a fluid group with interchangeable properties.
By employing someone in the first place you are committing to a relationship that should be based on mutual respect and trust. If you refuse to trust your workforce with your message, then you are either employing the wrong people, or you aren’t spending enough time on internal communication and training to make sure they are proactive when it comes to promoting the company.
If you're worried that a large percentage of your staff will say things that will damage your reputation online, then isn’t it time you looked into why they’re so disgruntled in the first place?
If you really, honestly feel that you’re opening yourself to negative sentiment, then you need to be online and dealing with it directly, not ignoring it in the hope that it goes away.
2. We don't have the resources.
Because it’s often seen as part of marketing, there’s an implicit assumption that social media means promotions, ads and targeted campaigns. While there’s definitely room for all of these as engagement tools online, if you don’t want to transfer budgets from offline then you don’t need to.
Being truly social involves listening, learning and talking.
It’s perfectly acceptable to use your Twitter or your Facebook entirely as a customer service and information point, as long as you make a concerted, earnest effort it will still have major brand value.
3. It’s a distraction.
One of the abiding myths is that as soon as you unlock that firewall, people will spend the entire day yakking on Facebook. You don’t pay them to talk! Or apparently, to think. Again, if this is a genuine issue then you probably need to seriously rethink your employment policy.
Stop and think about it for a second.
Do you let people have their mobile phones with them in the office? Do they have a phone on their desk? They don’t spend all day talking there, so why should Facebook be any different? (It is after all, perfectly easy to track internet history.)
No one who's half way decent at their job is going to waste their entire day on social networks, and to claim they will is at best rather insulting.
Allowing your employees to see what's happening online can be inspiring, can help them see their place in the larger organisation and how their efforts help, and allows you to communicate with them in real time and let them offer opinions. By training and integrating staff into the process you'll have people ready to promote the brand and will receive a better understanding of how things work 'on the shop floor'.
4. It’s hard to track ROI
This is an old argument that goes back to the dawn of marketing.
Instant ROI’s are hard to find, but long term engagements are often far more valuable.
If you are sales-minded you may struggle to understand the purpose of a department without a direct return. Instead, you need to understand how this will add value to your sales.
Customers are no longer willing to be passively sold ‘at’. Instead you need to realize that there now exists a two-way street between you and your customers.
Ignoring customer input will make you seem arrogant and uninterested, something you cannot afford in an open market.
Besides, there are plenty of ways to measure social media success.
5. It’s too diverse.
Many people dipping a toe into the social media sea are a little overwhelmed by all the channels available. There’s an initial panic as you struggle to comprehend how you can possibly appear everywhere.
Relax. You don’t need to be. Have a think about your business, do you have lots of video? Tons of great images?
No? No problem, neither do I. So get on Twitter instead, say hello, and ask your staff if they’re on there as well.
One of the major challenges you will face will be staff engagement, so send a CEO level email requesting everyone who is on Twitter follows you, and make an active attempt to search them out. Once you’re all engaged you can start working out buzz.
Consider making social media a fundamental part of your hiring policy.
6. It’s a security risk.
Let’s say you’re a major defence contractor. You assign your Twitter feed to the office junior. What is he going to tell people that’s a security risk? “Making tea for PM of Tajikistan”?
It’s a question of planning.
Hire someone who knows what they can and cannot say in public. Don’t assign either the office junior or the internet-unsavvy CFO, instead, get a well briefed SM Manager.
Likewise, if you feel that someone contacting you online is suspicious, check them out before you reply. Filtering is easy and inexpensive so use it.
You aren’t required to reveal anything you don’t want to online, so any security risks are negated simply by having someone with a little common sense in control, and frankly, that should be a fairly obvious requirement from the get-go.
7. We have nothing to say
Finally, it’s still common to run across people who aren’t connecting because they don’t feel they have anything interesting to say.
Reading social media guides online, you’d be forgiven for assuming that you need to be Keats to keep your customers engaged. Luckily for you, they’re already interested in your product or organization, so just letting them know when the sale starts or that the website has a new widget is enough.
Yes, you’ll get more value if you have extensive blog content that’s relevant, interesting and newsworthy, but it isn’t a prerequisite.
The best thing about social media is that it’s entirely personal. There are a few rules of general etiquette but none you wouldn’t employ in real life.
Just be open and share and you’ll do fine, and if you honestly can’t think of anything to say about yourself, then talk about other people. Comment on their tweets and posts and you’ll be just as valuable and interesting to them.
The increasing adoption of social media does represent a culture shift for business. Those who excel will be the ones who realize that brand recognition and identity is now a collaborative process with their customers.
Yes, it can be difficult to relinquish control over your message, but it certainly isn’t impossible. Ultimately the entire process is a trust issue. If you trust your product, your team and yourself, then there’s no reason you can’t have a successful, useful social media presence.