Why social media is culture changing

14 April 2011

For some time I have been musing over why so many people are afraid of social media and why it sometimes takes a while to get clients to agree to proceed with a social media plan. I think those companies that are still dithering about whether to dip their toe into the water would do best to first set up some monitoring of the conversations that are already happening about their brand or industry. There are plenty of tools out there that can help you with this and they vary in cost from the free Google Alerts tool to the more costly solutions from the likes of Viral Heat or Radian6 available on a monthly plan or Scoutlabs and Meltwater to name but a few which charge on an annual basis.
The most important thing is to get started on your social media planning and if you think you’ll never find the time to do it then find someone that can help you. I met with a colleague recently who runs her own business and realised that she is too busy working “in” and not “on” her business. Pearls of wisdom from Tim Ferriss[1] and Michael Gerber[2] could help her with that challenge. She is unlikely to free herself up to take the first important steps any time soon. However I reckon that she will eventually look back and wonder why she spent so much time answering enquiries when she could have enabled all her customers to help each other and see her responses - if she had used social media.
I was talking to the owner of another business recently who was telling me how he set his marketing person to set up their Facebook and Twitter pages but when they were launched they did not attract any traffic so they quickly dispensed with their marketing person.
So what do all these stories share in common? The key thing to note is that using social media has to fit with your overall business objectives and it will shape the way for the new world order which is coming your way. Doing nothing is not an option unless you want your competitors to be much further on the learning curve. I hasten to add that you should not launch a social channel just because your competitors have one.
Already we have seen the raft of group buying sites like Groupon and Living Social which are galvinising consumers to group together to garner the best deals. This has even started to affect the car industry as groups gather together to negotiate sizeable vehicle discounts. Social media gives consumers a powerful, collective voice which cannot be ignored. Hotel groups ignore poor customer ratings on review sites such as Trip Advisor at their peril.
Engagement is the magic word which needs to drive our future communications plans with our key audiences. Unfortunately some PR companies are playing at doing social media with disastrous consequences. I have witnessed Facebook pages which either blatently promote the PR company that developed them or were launched as a marketing campaign which wither and quickly die as the initial hoopla on launch dissipates. Many of these sites fail to grasp the real meaning of social media as a channel for two way conversations and become ghost towns or a one way diatribe of press releases and sales messages, posted in quick, boring succession.
So how do we grow the “social” culture which will enable our social channels to flourish and bloom? Here are some quick pointers:
1. Firstly we need to make sure we find the right skills to engage our key audiences. This means more listening and often we’ll find those skills in our customer service teams.
2. Secondly it means thinking hard about things we can do for our customers and audiences that will add value to their lives – this means finding those that can write engaging copy to involve them.
3. Thirdly we need to start with a core team that understands social media and is not afraid to use it. Find the enthusiasts and let them show the rest of the core team how to use these channels. You cannot launch Facebook if your company bans all employees from using it.
4. Fourthly take a hard look at your customer service culture in your company and address its weak spots before launching social media. If your service desk is shrouded in secrecy and takes a month to get a response to a customer complaint – look at fixing your response times as part of your social media planning.
Social media makes many things about your business transparent and unless you are ready to respond openly to scrutiny of your operations, it’s best to get the building blocks in place first so you know how social media posts will change your core processes.
Social media is an excellent way to get very quick customer feedback on how you are doing and how you can improve. If this feedback is embraced and acted upon, it can be invaluable. However your company culture has to integrate your social channels into your operations or your efforts will mirror the Twitter and Facebook graveyards I’ve already alluded to. 

[1] Timothy Ferriss “The 4 hour work week” – Pubished by Vermilion, London, 2007.
[2] Michael E. Gerber “EMyth Mastery, The Seven Essential Disciplines for Building a World Class Company” Published by Collins, 2005.
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