A View of Social Media From the Inside: The Cat Hasn’t Meowed Just Yet

There have been a lot of great conversations going on out there about the pros and cons of Social Media, particularly in regards to its use and effectiveness in a business context.

Personally, I’m a great user and promoter of Social Media, through this blog, Twitter, Facebook, and my association with SOBCon. That’s one side of me.

There’s a business side of me too – I am an executive within a business organization that is doing its best to attract and retain customers, and turn a good profit.

Where does Social Media fit in there? Are we embracing it wholeheartedly as a game-changing way to improve our business?

The short answer – not yet.

Because its not something a business should jump into head first (ask Motrin).

There’s a LOT more to this than initially meets the eye. There are several questions a business needs to ask itself before it dives into Social Media,  and the first one is the most important.

Why?

It seems like a no brainer – after all, Dell does it. Zappos does it. Whole Foods does it – heck, even Starbucks does it. But it just isn’t a matter of setting up a Twitter and Facebook account and letting ‘er rip.

You are putting a hook out there to catch and promote conversations. Is that the medium you’d like to have them? That’s what we’re asking ourselves right now in our process.

How prevalent is SM use among your customer base? Or in your market in general?. Demographics are important. Believe it or not, a lot of people still don’t carry around Blackberries, or iPhones, or have set up a blog, or pay any attention whatsoever to all the assorted SM tools.

How sensitive are you to negative “stuff” out there? You need to have the stomach (and patience) to chat in public about all the nits and idiosyncrasies of your product or service.

Is your product or service good enough to withstand a possible onslaught of negativity? As I’ve often said, you need to get the “analog” stuff right (i.e. basic business blocking and tackling) before you can advance to “digital”.

What are your current “traditional” conversation avenues and how are they working? With only a few exceptions (Zappos, you know who you are) I don’t see too many companies that are tearing the cover off the ball on good ‘ol traditional customer service – at the counter, in the home, through a call center, and/or through online chat – going full blast at SM. They are already having great dialogs with their customers – the customers don’t need SM to be the first place to find them (although they do set up outposts just in case).

Many of the more active participants got there out of necessity as a way to clean up their act and turn around negative vibes – Dell rings a bell on that one.

As for marketing avenues, the traditional ways are admittedly one way, and while SM allows a two-way dialog, and a word-of-mouth opportunity, you have to go back to some of the earlier questions, as well as looking at your current word-of-mouth effectiveness (it helps to have a Net Promoter Score to look at, like our company does). Your customers may be more comfortable talking about you at a PTA meeting instead of in front of a computer (those demos again).

Lastly, does the company and all of its management truly understand the SM medium, and how to “speak” in it? The last thing we’d want to do is come off as too “corporate”, or be tone deaf to the other aspects of SM that make it so attractive to so many (i.e. the relationship side). That takes time, and a willingness to open up the personal kimono. A lot of folks still aren’t comfortable with that, and that’s quite understandable. You just can’t shove someone onto a different stage and say “OK, now be authentic, but don’t shill“.

These are all of the discussions our business is having internally about our potential involvement in SM. And where are we heading?

We’re already passive listeners on the medium – when issues come, we answer them directly (by calling the customer). We can see a more proactive use of SM down the road, but only as another arrow in the communication quiver. We’d still like to rely on what we already do well.

Because particularly in a service business like ours, nothing beats direct voice to voice, or better still, person to person, contact.

So the SM cat hasn’t meowed just yet, for at least one business. How about yours?

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Comments

  1. Joanna Young says

    Phew, Terry, what a relief to read a reasoned post about why a traditional business might want to use social media – and why you might want to hang fire. This is a very thoughtful analysis. Once again, thanks.

  2. Kevin Eikenberry says

    Nice Job Terry! This thought process is helpful even use small companies as we think about SM for more-than-just ourselves – even if we are a large part of the brand itself.

    Thanks!

    Kevin :)

  3. Neil Williams says

    This is timely for me – am just having a debate over on my blog about corporate (in my case, governmental) use of Twitter.

    re your last point (does the company ‘get it’) this is a make or break one for me. You have to have the right people running your SM channels or the chances of it backfiring outweigh the likely benefits. Perhaps we practitioners need to thrash out a skills/person profile to help us identify who those ‘right people’ are.

    Grateful to Chris Brogan for sending me your way – this is a great blog. Loving the twitter soundtrack puns too :)

  4. Stefan Ziegler / intuitiv says

    Terry,

    Social Media for traditional business is not that main stream for getting in contact with users (=customers). I might would say Social Media is like a freestyle event after all the ‘other things’ are done.

    Thanks for your post

  5. Marc A. Pitman, FundraisingCoach.com says

    Thanks for letting us in on your thought process. I too am an avid personal user of social media. But I wasn’t quite sure my employer was ready. Demographics is part of it.

    But that whole bit on trying to tell people to be something they aren’t and yet be authentic rings so true.

    You’ve helped me see that I can start the conversation back a few steps from where I was (rather than shovong us in head first!).

    I’ll still be on Twitter (@marcapitman) but I won’t advertise that on my employer’s website…just yet. :)

  6. OutsideMyBrain says

    Very insightful article. I would have loved to have seen some actual SM demographic graphs (or at least stats) when you were referring to them.

    Most companies have figured out their target market (let’s hope) but they may not know the demographics of the SM scene. This added information would be very helpful for those companies reading your post.

    Keep up the great work!
    OutsideMyBrain

  7. Lisha Sterling says

    I think that you miss the point regarding whether a company should be in the social media sphere or not, and what the source of Motrin’s fiasco was. Motrin’s mistake wasn’t that they went head first into social media. It’s that they said something STUPID. That video piece would have made people mad on TV just as much as on the Web. And the conversation would have happened in social media with or without them.

    So, the real issue is, what message are you sharing? What are your goals? How are you going to use the information that you get FROM the conversation to improve your company both online and in the analog world?

  8. Gopal Shenoy says

    Awesome post. I will sure be sending this around in my company. Personally I love social media too, but still trying to find out how to make it work for a business. Whenever I feel I am drinking my own kool aid, I will keep coming back to this article to read it.

  9. David Stobs-Stobart says

    I run a young web company and clearly social media is important. The challenge for me is in making social interactions genuine and useful for the customer, but equally compelling for the followers. Something that balances promotion with the privilege to be a member of a community (Twitter, etc).

    After all, what is a ‘conversation’ in social media in the business context? Think this is beginning to bug me enough to start collecting examples to analyse what ‘great’ means!

    Interesting post, thanks.

  10. Vitaly Pimenov says

    That is the right method of approach.

    The questions you are asking should really on the wall when the possibility of entering SM is considered.

    To supplement you point of view I can say, there seems to be a good enough method to test company-SM compatibility – implementation of internal social network.

    This can at least show how the people inside understand SM. And it can possibly be a useful sandbox.

  11. Peggy Hoffman says

    Enjoyed reading from several points of view including that it validates a thoughts I keep bringing up in my world of associations. You see associations are determined that “virtual” communities will solve the problems of (and replace) struggle face-to-face communities (or chapters as we call them). My answer is no because the customer still values f2f and what’s broken is the cumbersome structure. Thanks!

  12. sarah montague says

    Good solid advice. Thanks for the reminder on Net Promoter Score. Buttoning up customer service before diving into SM is so critical. What an interesting site you have. I can’t remember how I found it this morning (I have too many windows open).It may have been Twitter. I’ve been a blogger bystander for a number of years and recently started one of my own so I appreciate finding sites that are great role models.

  13. John Sheridan says

    We are also seeing a number of our clients wanting to explore Social Media to supplement their current “analog” activities, but not knowing how to begin.

    The best advice is to start small. And the first thing we do, is a Social Media Business Case. It doesn’t make sense for everyone, as you point out.

  14. Amy Derby says

    I’m a HUGE internet person, but it took me quite a while to get my own business into social media. And, essentially, I am my business.

    I wanted to take the time and do it right, which for me meant learning a lot about it first. I set up my personal Twitter account to play around with it for a few months before opening a Twitter account for my business, for example.

    I’ve learned (the hard way) that jumping into anything just because it’s instant and free isn’t kosher.

  15. Vicky H says

    Great questions Terry. I’m using them (not verbatim), but my own flavor of them in a proposal for work about SM.

    Good food for thought.

  16. Nathan Cheeley says

    Isn’t it unfortunate that something as fun as SM has to be protected from the parasitic effects of internet marketers trying to leverage it to their advantage? :/

  17. Techgirl says

    I realize this post is a year old, almost to the day, but I’d love to hear if any of your thoughts have changed or if you have comments based on the explosion that seems to have taken place just in the last year. In our own company we began to explore the SM arena about a year ago and there were definitely some of us who were skeptical and really wanting to proceed with caution. I believe we do have a great product and we get tons of business from customer referrals as a testament to that.

    On the other hand, as a consumer, I find myself getting annoyed when I see businesses with twitter and facebook pages. For example, I went to Jimboy’s Tacos (a chain in my area, not sure if they exist outside of California) and at the drive-thru there was a sticker that said “Follow us on twitter”. And I thought, “why the heck would I want to follow Jimboy’s Tacos on Twitter!” While I was waiting for my order I had a quick sec to check my iPhone for any Facebook updates I might have received since the last time I had checked about three minutes before. ;)

    Is it the idea not so much that people will actually follow these things (Jimboy’s just sold another combo meal!) but just the opportunity to get into the collective unconscious of the consumer through this kind of constant exposure?

    Sorry this is so long but I also use FB to spread the word to people about my yoga classes. I hope that doesn’t make me a parasite! I am connected to my master teacher who is world renowned in our area of yoga. I was shocked to see that he has over 1000 friends on his page. He has emphasized the importance of using the technology and not letting the technology use you.

  18. Starbucker says

    Hi Techgirl – thanks for your comment; and no worries about its length. :-)
    To your question, no, my thoughts have not changed. I still don’t think the cat has meowed yet, from the standpoint of whether or not social media can be a universal game-changer for businesses. I still think, “it depends”. I still think the business itself needs to be the primary focus. I think caution is still a good strategy – if regular good ‘ol word of mouth is working well, and that’s a good “network” for you, perhaps adding Social Media could enhance it, but who knows, maybe the folks that you are attracting are not particularly fond of SM, and might actually have the kind of reaction you had to Jimboy’s Tacos.

    This CAN be overdone. But, if you take your time, observe and learn, put your toe in the water, observe and learn again, then put your whole foot, etc, etc, you can find out that right middle ground that keeps you out of the parasite category, but well into the “beneficial to my business or profession” category.

    Good luck, and thanks again for stopping by!

    All the best,
    Terry

Trackbacks

  1. [...] “A View of Social Media From The Inside: The Cat Hasn’t Meowed Yet” Terry Starbucker writes about the pros and cons of using social media in regards to business, asking the questions “Where does Social Media fit in there? Are we embracing it wholeheartedly as a game-changing way to improve our business?” And his answer is, in short- Not Yet. Terry writes about how there is a lot to learn before jumping into social media head first on behalf of a business, and gives an outline of some important questions businesses should ask before diving in to social media. [...]

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