I've had opportunity to talk to a variety of C-Suiters, managers, board members, and stakeholders in organizations about social media and why they should care. In case you find yourself in a similar situation, I'm going to share some surprising points for people who need to help organizations get from "Huh?" to at least "dabbling" in social media use.
1. Social media has two definitions: a technical and a sociological one. Only the former matters.
The technical definition is "online tools that allow users to post and share content." The sociological one is the fluffy "it's a mentality" gobbeldygook that social media gurus like to spout. It's not relevant when the board asks you "What's social media, anyways?" so avoid sounding like a douche and skip the latter.
2. You don't have to use (typical) social media.
Not all organizations have audiences that use social media with enough regularity to make it worthwhile. Or, they could have business models that make "typical" social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest) untenable. If your target audience isn't there, don't waste your time.
However, going back to our definition of "online tools that allow users to post and share content" broadens the pool of things you could be using. Maybe what you should be doing is blogging on your own site, allowing web page feedback, or using a hosted forum to conduct a virtual community consultation. Or even providing some sort of instant messaging for customer service support.
3. You still need to pay attention.
You still need to monitor what is being said on the Internet about your company, your competitors, and your product or service. Whether you set up Google Alerts for free, lurk on Twitter Search, or invest in a pay-for service like Radian6 or Media Miser, you need to be paying attention.
4. Social media is changing customer service expectations at every level.
And now the uncomfortable news. If the C-suite is thinking the organization can get away with avoiding social media, then this is the most important takeaway from the exponential increase of social media use. Our interconnectivity and on-demand world is building new expectations in every facet of life.
I am so used to watching TV shows when I want, pausing, rewinding and skipping commercials, I once tried to rewind the radio. My expectations of one technology shaped those of another, and went unmet. That's just a technology-technology example. There's a couple of times I've wanted to re-listen to something I could only hazily recall, only to realize that I was recalling a real-life conversation with a friend.
If Google can answer me right now, why can't the idiot at the helpdesk? If I can get through to a website in microseconds, why do I have to put up with the "Your call is important to us" drivel? Why on earth would calling another department make sense to me when I can see what my friends are up to all at once, even when they're on different continents? More importantly, what is to prevent me, after exhausting your tiresome official channels, from going public with my unresolved customer service beef?
Sorry, C-Suite. Whether we have a Twitter account is hardly the issue.
5. The moral of the story is "let's wade in sooner and get better as we go."
Getting from "Huh?" to competently using social media can seem very, very daunting. You have to:
- Research best practices for your industry
- Monitor what others are saying
- Get all your internal stakeholders together on one page
- Develop an internal governance model (policies and procedures)
- Figure out what you're going to do and when based on your business and communications plans
- Develop content, graphics, bios, accounts, etc. on every site you might be interested in, to protect your organization's name on those sites
- Participate, interact, and keep things fresh
- Evaluate how things are going
- Report on how things are going to internal stakeholders
- Develop training for staff
- ... Etc.
However, if you wait to get all your ducks in a row, they never will. A mother duck doesn't wait for her ducklings to line up before crossing the road; she just goes, and the ducklings fall into place after her.
So pick a tool, and start using it. In most cases, failure at social media is obscurity; it's fairly forgiving. Besides, if you're dabbling and something goes sideways for your organization, at least you have a forum to get your own message out.
Get in, get on, and worry about the larger issues of how social media is changing the way we need to do business, rather than the relatively simple part of actually using the tools. And, if you need help with any of that, contact us.