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2012: The Year of Living Dangerously with Social Media

2011 September 15

Why are companies and organizations still so afraid of social media?

They seem to understand why they should be using social media – they’ve been presented with all the business cases, case studies and marketing plans to prove its worth. Now there seems to be a major aversion to actually diving in and utilizing social media in the best possible way for the brand – not as a broadcast channel, but as an engagement channel. Now that they’re on social media, they really have no idea what to do with it.

Here are my responses to the two biggest fears I’ve heard:

What if it doesn’t work?

You could say that about any marketing your company does. Has that stopped you from launching that email campaign? How about print campaigns? While the cost of social media isn’t free, it can certainly cost you a heckuva lot less than some of the other marketing you do – so if fear of a direct mail campaign not working didn’t stop you from spending bucketloads of precious marketing budget on it, then why is this same fear stopping you from launching your social media effort?

Perhaps it’s more of a fear of the unknown – something that’s experimental and new versus tried and true. I read a really interesting article in The Conversation on CIPR about PR’s schizophrenic attitude to creativity. Andrew Smith cited recent research from Cornell University that points up key reasons why there’s a general bias against creativity:

  • Creative ideas are by definition novel, and novelty can trigger feelings of uncertainty that make most people uncomfortable.
  • People dismiss creative ideas in favor of ideas that are purely practical — tried and true.
  • Objective evidence shoring up the validity of a creative proposal does not motivate people to accept it.

So the business case for social media may have been made, but actually implementing new and creative ideas for using it presents a roadblock for many people. It’s understandably difficult for us as humans to do things outside of our comfort zone; but if we were always afraid of something not working, nothing would ever get done. For companies to succeed in social media, they have to step outside of what is safe. Don’t be afraid to try something new – if it doesn’t work, learn from it and try something different.

What if someone says something bad?

Leslie White wrote a great post over at the SocialFishing Blog that addressed this very fear. A lack of control is what drives it – many companies and organizations feel that they have to steer the message in a very calculated way, all the time. They feel like social media will give people a platform to say anything they want about the brand, and they can’t control that. NEWSFLASH: those conversations are already happening, but you’ve been too wrapped up in your “message” to see it. Sure, there are negative things being said; but guess what – there are positive things being said too. By your customers and members.

So, no, you can’t control the conversation on social media; but, as Leslie White puts it, “social media gives us many ways to try to influence it.” Instead of ignoring negativity or avoiding social media completely, there are steps you can take to influence the conversation:

  1. Religiously monitor mentions of your company, brand and products on social media.
  2. Create a plan of action for dealing with negative comments, based on what you’ve monitored (and for funneling those comments to appropriate channels). Here’s an oldie (but still goodie) blog post I wrote a few years ago on dealing with negative feedback in a positive way.
  3. Create a plan for engaging and empowering the people who are making positive comments – they are your customer brand evangelists.
  4. Use everything you’ve found to make improvements  – negative feedback is still good feedback.

Let’s make 2012 the year of living “dangerously” – stop being afraid of social media and start thinking of how it can work for you, not against you.


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