Recently, I gave a presentation about social media and reputation management to approximately 100 entrepreneurs and business representatives.
Two things were evident with the audience that are not uncommon when I present – people were keenly interested in social media but some of them seemed to be hesitant, overwhelmed, or unconvinced about it.
Additionally, while the content and case studies piques interest, during Q & A or one-on-one interactions afterward, some express that they don’t know where to start, that it seems like a lot of work, or that they do not have the time that they think social media will require.
Social Media Is Still New To Many
The reluctance or concerns expressed by audience members are good reminders to social media practitioners about what is happening outside the “bubble” – the place where we congregate and “preach to the choir”.
It is easy for those of us evangelizing social media to forget about those people who are just starting to explore this “new” phenomenon. I say “new” because it is still new to many.
Facebook may have been founded nearly a decade ago but I continue to meet and hear about people who have never set a virtual foot inside the social network, sent a tweet on Twitter, or posted a picture on Instagram. Furthermore, many will say that they have a LinkedIn profile but add that they are not as active there as they could be.
There is no shortage of content making the case for social media, proving ROI, explaining how to engage an audience, and convert that same audience into advocates and/or paying customers.
The amount of coverage that social media receives would suggest a certain level of maturity. I am not saying that social media isn’t gaining momentum but I am saying that, despite all the content and validation, social media adoption has not occurred at the rate many would have predicted or hoped for.
We’ve Been Here Before
What I also want to say is that we have seen these circumstances before – first with the Internet, email and then with e-commerce. Additionally, how many remember the amount of times you’ve heard, “This is going to be the year for mobile”?
As before, there were early adopters evangelizing the opportunity, mistakes and missteps were made, costs ran over, and, eventually, people and companies figured it out.
We now take the Internet, email, e-commerce, and mobile for granted.
Just think about our expectation that every company should have a website. When was the last time that you bought something online? Look at the proliferation of smartphones. One caveat would be that many of us may have actually cursed the existence of email while busy pursuing “inbox zero’.
Getting to the point where innovations like email became ubiquitous or where we are able to do price comparisons on our phone while shopping took time – twenty years in some cases.
If you count blogging (as you should), we are about 15 years into the social media movement already. Hopefully, that has been enough time to provide the wisdom and experiences that will help people and organizations move ahead. We have the luxury of hindsight to mitigate risk, avoid cost overruns, and be more strategic about where and how new technology and procedures get rolled out.
Granted, we still see or hear about examples of people or companies sharing mundane or useless content and updates about their lives and activities. The world does not need more food porn or posts about making a sandwich, the fact that you are hungry, tired, super busy, or rocking your workday.
In some ways, social media has provided a vast playground for narcissists and it is going to be take some time to get them off the monkey bars.
Some social media practitioners have suggested that companies need to adopt social media or die. Some have gone so far as to suggest that if you don’t adopt social media that you won’t be in business in five years.
That’s quite a bold statement and possibly a condescending one.
The “bubble” has its fair share of snarkiness and brands being called out on their social missteps but it also has people promoting the positive disruption of social media (i.e. empowering people to communicate when other means have been shut off by their oppressive governments) and the lower barriers of entry to markets it presents to solopreneurs, small businesses, and larger enterprises.
While we can all agree that a CEO taking a selfie with a duckface is going to have little to no positive effect on a company’s share price or bottom line, it can have a humanizing effect for him or her and, more broadly, the company, assuming that the picture is not some sort of picture you see on the Rich CEO’s of Instragram.
If done right, it could reflect the fact that they are real people with real lives and that the picture, in some small way, makes them a bit more accessible and does not perpetuate ivory tower syndrome.
Humanity, engagement, content, and transparency are the social media buzzwords you hear regularly inside the “bubble”.
They can sound a bit fluffy but each of them is valid in their own right and lends credibility to the case for adopting social media. However, they do suggest more time, effort, change, and cost. They require a shift in mindset and operating procedures.
It is no wonder that that shift causes people to hesitate and research where and how social media can play a role within their organization and whether it is even worth it.
What Are Your Peers Doing?
We can confidently make the case for social media adoption but if you find yourself in the situation where you are hesitating then don’t take our word for it, or that of someone else from within the “bubble”.
Look outside the “bubble” to your colleagues, peers, mentors, competitors, partners, and/or industry players like LinkedIn who are evolving from a professional social network into an influential media and content powerhouse.
Ask what your peers are doing with social media. Change is more readily accepted when reflected by your peers rather than dictated by others. If they are doing anything then what has their experience been?
Did it work for them? Was it a colossal failure? Did they drive cost out of one or more areas of business (e.g. customer service)? Did they drive incremental revenue (e.g. lead generation)? Are they still working their way through? How easy or hard was it to gain internal support and adoption?
We can all agree that just because your niece or nephew is using Facebook it does not mean that you need to bet the farm on social media. Assuming your peers are experiencing some success, consider where and how you might mirror their efforts. Learn from their successes and avoid their mistakes.
If no one is doing anything then consider your options – could your company do something that could gain strategic advantage over your competitors?
It may be sacrilegious to say this but it could be possible that social media is an area that you just do not need to explore now or ever. However, if you choose to move forward with social media adoption it can require a certain degree of change and stakeholder management so make sure you are certain.
Find out how your peers approached it. Did they dive in or simply dip their toe in the water? Similar to innovation and business design methodologies, did they make small bets and iterate? You may want to consider adopting social media in small or narrow increments and expand your efforts as you learn and gain traction.
Big Data And Insights
Just as we have the luxury of hindsight from our past experiences, we also have the benefit of big data. Social media is rich with data that can help guide the initial approach that you take and the ongoing refinements you make to your social media strategy.
It is the data and, more specifically, the insights gained that have made it increasingly easier to make the case for social media adoption and to prove ROI.
Confidence and comfort regarding social media will come with inquiry and by taking incremental steps. Frankly, if you were to do nothing more than listen to gather insights about how you and your company are being discussed, how your competitors are performing, or how customers feel about your products or services then you would already be doing more than many other companies.
Ultimately, any action that you take is your decision. There are plenty of people and organizations inside the “bubble” that would tell you to get with the program but the adoption of social media by an enterprise does not happen overnight.
Take the steps when you are ready. Ask questions. Seek advice and assistance when and if you need it.
And if/when you do decide to step up and make the next move, we’d be happy to show you around.
A recognized senior social strategist, speaker, and blogger. He has held senior strategy roles with wireless, e-business, financial, and social CRM service providers, helping clients remain competitive by embracing social media and digital technologies.