Jun 27

Why Do Corporations Struggle with Social Media?

I see a lot of larger companies who don’t seem to get how social media makes things cheaper and well, just better. It’s a direct communication tool, like a cell phone. Big companies seem to just snuggle with Web 2.0 rockstars and then call it a day. That’s lame. That doesn’t make me want to throw you my money. I just want to know that you aren’t going to hose me or my friends and then we are cool.

Here are some tips for large companies on how they can cut costs, improve their products, and well, make the world a better place by using social media:

1.) It sounds harsh, but evolve or die.
Look folks, I’m not making this stuff up. Social media and in particular Facebook is a global revolution. Imagine a country that grows to 400 million people in six years. That’s Facebook. Twitter was founded in 2006, and studies show that 37 percent of journalists already use it. 59 percent of them already blog.

Yes, it sprung up on you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take it seriously. If 37 percent of journalists are on Twitter, how easy is it for pissed off customers to hit them up with a juicy story about your company?

What am I saying here? It means 1.) Your communications people need to do their homework, 2.) Your senior leadership needs to do their homework, and 3.) You need to come up with a plan and a budget, and you need to revisit them frequently. Don’t just ignore it because the word “Twitter” sounds kind of dirty.

2.) Social media is not a marketing tool. It can be used by your entire company.
Social media tools like Twitter are merely communication tools. When I advise people about them, I use a term from the movie “The Matrix”:
There is no spoon.

This means you can use Vimeo not just to spam people with ads, but to instruct them how to use your product. You can use Twitter to follow potential business development opportunities or get feedback for your product teams. There really is no rigid “use” for social media. If you give it to the marketing team, you are essentially telling the world, “The only way we would like to communicate with you is to sell you something”. I suppose that’s within a company’s right, but there are many more useful ways to use social media to cut costs and make things happen in a short period of time.

3.) You are playing with fire when you outsource it to someone else.
Your customers are going to ask you all sorts of things.
Can I get a job at your company?
Fix this issue or I’m calling my lawyer.
Why hasn’t this tech support rep answered my email?

Can you really trust some 24-year-old at a marketing agency will get a tweet from a journalist or a very angry customer and is going to represent your company in a way that doesn’t get you in trouble with the SEC or the press? I don’t really understand this model of using social media. I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work. Agencies can create good marketing campaigns using social media and can provide guidance for sure (see this and this), but they shouldn’t really represent your company’s presence online.

Again, trusting it just to the marketers means you are missing other opportunities to save money, like using these tools for tech support or product development.

4.) You let the lawyers take control even though they think “blog” is a drink you have on Christmas.
People seem to think lawyers know everything about the law. Here’s a secret: THEY DON’T. The law is very expansive and constantly changes. No lawyer knows everything about it and if they do, they are just big lying liars.

Lawyers should not be able to set policies on tweeting and blogging if they don’t have any familiarity with the mediums and in particular, the concept of Creative Commons. It just makes employees nervous and distrustful and then they do their own thing on the side anyway. Just like senior leadership should do due diligence to learn about social media, so should the legal department.

5.) People aren’t convenient numbers. They are people. Now they can form a “corporation” of their own, for you or against you.
This is perhaps the point where big companies struggle the most. You’ve got the bean counters who expect certain amounts of leads, profits, etc, whatever. They are used to a Cold War game, where you just outgun your opponent with huge shock and awe figures.

The game has changed. This is not a trend. This isn’t a fad. That game is gone and lost forever.

What the Cold War mentality isn’t considering in a new media world is that these numbers can all ban together and decide you rock. They can ban together and decide you suck. They now have easy access to each other. You can’t just hose a bunch of people and think they don’t know any better. It’s not the way it used to be. They are all talking about your company and comparing notes.

In a new media world, you just have to be honest and reduce your risk for IEDs, snipers, and the like. You have to win the hearts and minds of people and then ask them to spread the word.

It’s not that corporations can’t be agile enough–it’s that often the people in charge simply don’t get it. They didn’t get where they are at using it so there is no use dropping what works for some “fad”. A little research and a holistic strategy about social media could mean wonders for them. I don’t how you can look at social media tools and figure that consumers will ever stop using them to reach out to each other. They just help people make informed decisions.

Frustrated because your company fits this bill? Leave a comment for how big companies can improve what they are doing. You can use a fake name like Awesome McAwesomePants or something outrageously cool like that so as to not incriminate yourself.

  • http://www.kblossoms.com Jae

    We are a 2 person team. We don’t have a system to post blog and FB Fan Page. We’d also like to Tweet. But we need a system or step-by-step guide. Even better would be 1 software program that will push our updates onto those sites, and turn on email notifications so we can keep up to date all in 1 site.

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle
  • http://twitter.com/toddbarnard Todd Barnard

    Easy. The decision makers, people in positions of power will not/cannot/refuse to look beyond the short term profit margin – they just see a needless expense that yields absolutely nothing to a fiscal quarter’s bottom line.

    A rare exception would be Gatorade. Don’t know what went on behind the scenes, but the decision maker’s there DO “get it”, big time:

    http://mashable.com/2010/06/15/gatorade-social-media-mission-control/

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    @Todd, thanks for pointing out the Gatorade example. Always good to have examples of companies that get it.

    If any other readers have examples of those who get it, leave it in the comments for others to learn from, please. Thanks!

  • http://paulgailey.com Paul Gailey

    it´s trust: primarily companies don´t trust employees from abusing company time to socialise instead of use the medium for business effectiveness. The whole lexicon of “social media” conjures up this image of inane chit chat for company leaders. Hence the firewalls, the banning of web time and the timesheet paralysis. Dieing is fashionable.

  • http://cecycorrea.com @cecycorrea

    The feedback I’ve received regarding a slight reluctance to embrace social media right away is that there is not sure way for our company right now to measure these metrics.

    Also, as you pointed out, everything is social media is fair game and you can make your own path, which is exciting. I think the reluctance comes from the fact that there is not a clear rubric to follow. Some companies are afraid to embrace that freedom.

  • http://michellesblog.net Michelle

    @paul yes, I don’t think social media’s origins helped senior leaders “get it”.

    @cecy good call on the metrics part. I guess it will take time. My dad was one of the first IT managers to set up computers in executive’s offices back in the day. They used to ask “Wait, I have to type my own stuff now?” There is no way to really measure what the increased productivity when executives got their own tools. It’s just a matter of having the right people buy into the vision.

  • http://www.fourthsource.com Sandeep Vadgama

    Its funny how larger companies are afraid of utilising social media. I hear a lot of them say they are afraid people will start talking about them but not understanding that they already are and they are missing out on the opportunity to influence these conversations.

    I think for social media it is just getting warmed up, as time passes and more people become experienced then we will begin to see some of the larger companies begin to embrace it.
    .-= Sandeep Vadgama´s last blog ..10 Ways to fail at Social Media Marketing and how not to =-.

  • Zoujiaofang