Saturday, January 23, 2010

Social Media... What a Place to Be!(?)

For companies today, hopefully it’s “Social Media… What a place to be!”

Occasionally instead it’s “Social Media… What a place to be?”

More often than not, though it’s “Social Media… What? A place to be.”

Punctuation isn’t usually given much gravitas today (except of course for fans of the Lynne Truss bestseller) but it can make a large difference in some things, Social Media being one.

The hot business buzzword topic has gone from unknown to the “it idea” in the span of a few short years… and was the topic of the recent BusinessWeek feature story “Beware Social Media Snake Oil.” As companies large and small figure out what if anything to do around the Social Media space, mistakes are easy to make. These can of course be in the execution of Social Media strategies and tactics, but can also be back in the all-important deciding what to do phase.

Back to the three statements above:

Social Media… What a place to be! – Something felt a company invested in Social Media and pleased as punch with the results.

Social Media… What a place to be? – Something felt by a company invested in Social Media and that hasn’t gotten what they expected. Also could be felt by a company slammed by others via Social Media communication.

Social Media… What? A place to be. – Something felt by… most everyone else. Companies (and the people in them) don’t want to be left out, but are trying to figure out the best approach to take around Social Media. This “what to do?” is the big question to be asked up front and the companies that put the most thought into it are likely going to be the ones who are happy with their experience around Social Media. As is detailed below, this figuring out process needs to include not just what a company might say via Social Media, but what's said about it.

Social Media Background

It’s been already stated here that Social Media is a new concept, but to understand it, one needs to look at where it lies on a communication (note that the word technology isn’t used here) continuum.

Prior to the wacky worldly-wide interweb-net, people communicated with one other largely via the telephone, letters and meeting in person. Conversely, companies communicated with people via the telephone, print ads, in person interaction and television.

Now with the internet enmeshed in our lives, people communicate with one another via… the telephone (including text messages), letters (including e-mails) and meeting in person as well as oh yeah, via the internet. People and companies communicate with one another (person to person and company to person) in many of the same ways as before. In terms of company to person communication, television hasn’t gone away, nor has direct mail, sponsorship or cold-calling over the phone.

With the internet (and specifically Social Media via the internet) added, though, there’s a new method of company to person communication, but probably even more important (and new to the scene via Social Media) person to person communication about companies.

Social Media Vehicles

In looking at Social Media, one has to keep in mind there’s widely different forms out there and from his book about blogging, Scott Rosenberg gives both the history of that particular Social Media vehicle and how it relates to some of the even newer Social Media vehicles.

Rosenberg's theory is that MySpace, Facebook and Twitter don't signal the end of blogs as the intent and execution of them is so different than that of blogging. He writes of how these sites can be considering a telephone type communication in that they're short form contact and blogging is about a longer form publishing of thoughts.

Regardless, all of these communication vehicles along with YouTube and even texting should be considered Social Media in that they deal with the idea of information disseminating… whether that be directly from a company or from people passing along communication themselves about a company. As a result, companies considering Social Media should look at Social Media from both perspectives… what and how they want to communicate with people and what’s being said by others.

Company to Person via Social Media

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs among other Social Media vehicles are all new methods of communication, but frankly, they’re still just communication vehicles. A company has a target audience, figures out where to reach them and then crafts a message. That isn’t necessarily different than the typical 30 second ad buy on network television… which still can definitely have its place in a world that includes Social Media. What is new, though, is how Social Media as an original communication vehicle (or vehicles) can be used to string together and supplement other forms of messaging to customers. Result is that any company working in the Social Media space needs make sure that via either in-house or outside experts, they understand how to best use the tools. It's in a way akin to how if a company is going to pay for the aforementioned 30 second network TV buy, they want to nail the message.

Person to Person about Companies via Social Media

In terms of Social Media, here’s where things get really interesting. The biggest difference between traditional communication for companies and today’s communication including Social Media is control. Previously the company controlled the message and could target, filter and adjust it to the audience.

Today, however, Social Media enables a message to be passed along virally outside the control of a company so it becomes crucial to influence that as much as possible. How to influence? Well...

You’ve got to both get it right the first time in your messaging, have people who are paid to monitor person to person communication about your firm and then be responsive when you need to be. In terms of the response, it doesn’t help to know that everyone in Social Media is talking negatively about you if valid complaints are not then acted on. Once they are out there, it then becomes a case of both action and communication of that action... hopefully through the same Social Media channel that the complaints came in on.

These would appear to be things that any company (whether they’re employing Social Media or not) needs to do, but the moral of the story is that whether you’re doing things yourself or not, you’re active in Social Media. Really, it's a way to propagate information, whether you’re doing it as a company or people are doing it for you.

Hence the need to try to set up the framework to be able to thrive (say powerful things as a company, but more importantly have powerful, and good, things said about you) in this Social Media space.