At a family get-together last weekend, a number of my relatives were lamenting the fact that the businesses they work for aren’t involved in social media – at all. For those of us who work in the social sphere, this is a mind-blowing concept. It would be like saying, “Our office doesn’t have a phone number. Upper management is worried customers will call us to complain. They don’t see why we can’t just handle everything through the mail like we’ve always done.”
Social media professionals sometimes take it for granted that businesses will at least have a basic understanding of the importance of their online presence. In some ways, we’re right, as the latest research shows that social media usage among Fortune 500 companies continues to grow, with 73 percent of these companies active on Twitter and 66 percent active on Facebook. Still, that means 27 and 36 percent of companies are not involved, respectively.
In spite of the high usage rates, it’s easy to forget that a lot of these mediums have only been around for a few years. When you think about it, is it really that surprising that older executives who have absolutely no experience with social media in their personal lives are hesitant to jump into a new, completely unfamiliar and seemingly uncontrollable world?
If you see the benefits of social media but your company is hesitant or even hostile to the idea, here are a few things to consider when pitching your fuddy-duddy superiors:
Issue: All social media is going to do is open the doors for people to complain.
Answer: The conversation is happening, regardless of whether you choose to participate.
Some execs react strongly against social media after hearing about a bad experience, such as a customer or employee publishing a negative experience with the company. In response, they take the ostrich approach and stick their heads in the sand, thinking that if they don’t have a social media page, people can’t say mean things about them.
The truth is, these forums exist, and these people are talking about you already, regardless of whether you know about it or not. If people have complaints about your company, they’ve always had those complaints. It’s just that now those complaints can instantly reach a whole lot of people.
Instead of ignoring it, use this as an opportunity and monitor what people are saying. Find out what the problems are and whether they are legitimate or not. Find out what the general opinion is of your brand. Then use that information and determine a strategic way to participate in the conversation.
Issue: Social media isn’t relevant to our business.
Answer: Be strategic about how and what types of social media you use.
You’ll hear this a lot from B2B companies or those with very specific customer groups – and there is some truth to it. A company that makes industrial equipment isn’t going to have a Facebook page exactly like Coke’s. However, it might have a Facebook page like Caterpillar’s, which utilizes spectacular photos and fan enthusiasm for its massive vehicles to create an engaging environment. Is Cat getting sales leads from this page? Probably not, but I dare you to browse through it and leave without a more favorable view of its brand.
There are a variety of platforms to engage on social media and a variety of ways to use them. Don’t think you can get new business leads on Twitter? Start a LinkedIn group and generate some discussion on strategies to raise your profile and find new connections. Think manufacturing is too boring for Facebook? Share photos of your giant equipment and graphs charting the number of jobs you provide to the area. Worried that you won’t see a return on investment? Find ways to link directly to sales sections on your website and use the incoming links to increase your traffic and SEO. The opportunities are out there.
Issue: We tried that social media thing and it didn’t work.
Answer: You’ll get out of it what you put into it.
What’s that? You mean the Twitter account your intern set up and played around with for three weeks didn’t do much for you? So surprising!
There’s still a perception out there that social media should be easy – and cheap. After all, it’s free, right? In practice, you get out of social media what you put into it. Pinterest and Facebook pages may be free to set up, but they require a lot of time and hard work to make them effective. You’ve got to curate, write and manage engaging content. A lot of engaging content. All the time. If it gets boring, people will tune you out.
Additionally, one of the main goals behind social media is to give people a chance to interact with you – to break down the barriers and let them know there are real people behind these corporate logos. Developing those relationships takes time and care. It requires you to be engaged and watchful.
Again, cite examples of businesses similar to yours that are utilizing these principles well. If you can point out how competitors are getting the leg up on customer service or brand marketing or lead generation, it won’t take long to turn a few senior executive heads to your way of thinking.
Image Credit: Learning Future Festivals 2010