Chapter 10 - Other Insights and FAQs
Getting started with social media, or expanding and improving your operations if you already are, can be overwhelming - but there is a basic approach to be followed. Identify or select the channels your customers (or prospects) are currently interacting, and follow this four-step process:
- Listen. Pay attention to anything that is being said by anyone about your brand, and pay attention to anything that your target market is saying about anything. The most important intelligence comes from where the two overlap - but the fringes are still important.
- Interact. Be proactive in joining the ongoing conversation, but attentive to areas in which your voice will be both welcome and heard. You should not pop up anywhere your brand is mentioned, only when you have something of value (to others) to add to the conversation.
- React. Carry intelligence you gather in social media back to company insiders who have the power and the will to adjust your product and your service based on the feedback you have gathered from social channels.
- Sell. If you listen, act, and react then selling may not require much effort at all - but ultimately your company will expect to see financial returns to justify the expense of being involved in the social channels.
The author mentions that many firms will attempt to begin with step four, because selling product and making money is their primary interest. It's the worst thing you can do: not only will it be effective, but it will damage your reputation and your ability to be successful later.
Social media is about conversations, not promotions. Barging into conversations to spread your message while ignoring what others have to say, or what they want to hear, is a good way to get a bad reputation.
- If you are merely unaware or inattentive, you seem foolish. People are not only aware that companies monitor their reputation in social media, they expect it.
- If you are aware and do nothing, you seem callus and uncaring. Most people don't criticize you because they hate you, but because they want to love you better.
- If you are aware, do nothing, and demand people tolerate your behavior, you seem evil and conniving. This is far worse than not participating at all.
He also mentions that these are the same steps for any participant of any kind to follow in social media - people, nonprofit organizations, political parties, and whatever.
He also suggests that customers are involved in the same process regarding commercial brands:
- Listen. Customers listen to what other people are saying about products, and actively seek out information when they are facing a buying decision. The greater the impact of consuming a product to their budget, lifestyle, or reputation, the more research they will do.
- Interact. Customers will ask questions of others about products, and will share their experiences with others.
- React - The customer will modify their purchasing and consumption behavior according to the intelligence they gather in social media.
- Sell - The customer will become a salesman, or at least an advocate, of brands with which they have had positive experiences. The will also become a critic or detractor of brands with which they have had negative experiences.
The "true beauty" of social media is that you're not alone in promoting your product, but working in collaboration with your market.
Company Restrictions on Social Media
A USA Today report in 2009 suggested that 89% of companies restricted employees' access to Facebook, and 54% completely blocked the site via their firewall. To the author, this seems all to familiar: the firms who forbade employees from having internet access at all, or using personal e-mail accounts, or even visiting ecommerce sites. Even the prospect of installing telephones was initially met with hostility by firms that had little trust of their employees and little insight into how valuable these things can be as business tools.
In short, any firm that bans or excessively restricts social media in the workplace simply "doesn't get it" and it's highly unlikely that their use of these tools for business purposes is particularly intelligent, either.
It also seems entirely asinine for firms to publish draconian policies regarding use. The availability of a tool doesn't make a responsible worker into a goldbrick - and while goldbricks will certainly abuse any tool you give them to waste time and money rather than doing their jobs, taking away a specific tool will not improve their character (they will simply find other ways to be nonproductive).
He briefly mentions matters of etiquette, and suggests that these things can be learned on their own. A person who sends one indiscreet email or makes one inappropriate remark in social media likely isn't going to ruin the entire company's reputation - and will learn the lesson more strongly from his personal mistakes than from being told by an HR clerk with an air of condescension.
In terms of productivity, enabling employees to take short and unobtrusive breaks lends to a higher productivity: to take (literally) a minute to check a stock price enables an employee to remain focused on his work rather than remaining anxious about his investments for the entire afternoon - and less time than having to covertly sneak out of the office to call his broker. (EN: The specific example of stock prices calls to mind a "do as I say" mentality. Executives were often above the policies that they imposed on the rank and file in this regard.)
The same can be said of many things: getting a "tweet" from a relative in California after an earthquake, or even getting an update on a sports score, is a very brief interruption that enables the employee to focus more, rather than less, on their other work.
Some employees can even make productive use of social media tools. Those employees who professionally network with others outside of the office (customers, vendors, and partners) find social media tools to be more efficient than the telephone in maintain contact and developing business relationships.
One academic suggests that people who surf the Internet and use social media for fun at work generally waste less time (by about 9%) than people who don't. Technology makes it more efficient for them to accomplish personal tasks that they would have found other means to do.
He mentions an interesting parallel between the workplace and the classroom: teachers have been disciplining students for whispering, daydreaming, passing notes, doodling, and other such activities for generations - technology has not created these problems, but is being leveraged for the behaviors. Maybe the reason students feel disengaged has less to do with the tools they use to alleviate boredom than the fact that educators are failing to capture their student's attention. In that sense management should not be seeking to punish employees whose jobs are not engaging, but should themselves be punished for failing to keep their employees engaged.
(EN: There's a bit more to this rant, which is merely restating his opinion without further evidence and belaboring the point, which seems well made.)
Social Media ROI (Return on Investment)
In considering social media, many firms fall to their traditional ruler of return on investment ... they want to make money, and make it right away. The problem, per the earlier point, is that aggressively seeking to boost sales through aggressive social media promotion often provides a short-term spike, but damages the firm's reputation in the long run.
The author's retort for the question of "What is the ROI of social media?" is that "The ROI is that in five years your company will still exist." While this seems flippant, it is likely true. That is, social media may not yet have become the way that most people do business - but it will in future. And leveraging social media is less about making more money than you currently do, but protecting your stream of revenue against competitors who are a step ahead. That is, it's not return on investment, but retention of income.
(EN: ROI is often based on the assumption that past behaviors will perpetuate. Retail giants who assumed there was no ROI in moving their stores out of downtown shopping districts were assuming that people would continue to come to a central location to shop - and discovered only too late that they were very wrong in this assumption. But at the time, the numbers suggested that it was a waste of capital.)
He then spits out a list of statistics (most without sources) and a few stories of legendary success to substantiate (or imply) the value that social media has had for a number of firms. (EN: I'm dropping the list - some of the claims seem specious or at least exaggerated, and without any reference to the original sources I am unable to separate the hype from the facts.)
(EN: The author fills several pages with questions and answers. I'll sift it down to some bullet points, but it's going to be random.)
- Social media is a significant disadvantage to companies that have mediocre products and services. Their flaws will be pointed out, and there is nowhere to hide.
- Social media should not be outsourced, as it is a relationship between your brand and your customer. Using an agency to manage your relationship is like sending an actor you've hired to pretend to be you to a family gathering.
- Metrics for social media are often not very well ironed out. You can measure activity, but that activity may not be meaningful. A million "likes" on Facebook doesn't necessarily mean a penny in revenue, or that any of those people are or ever will be your customers.
- It's not realistic to consider social media to be the equivalent of advertising or promotion. It is encouraging positive word-of-mouth.
- One of the worst practices in social media seems to be talking when you have nothing to say. Companies set arbitrary goals such as updating a blog daily, posting to Facebook every four hours, and tweeting every hour - and as a result end up posting content that has no relevance or value, which trains people to ignore them.
- There's a great deal of enthusiasm over generations Y and Z, who are the consumers of the future. Companies should focus primarily on the consumers of the present: if they are selling to these young customers, the focus on them.
- He stresses that it is possible to get immediate results from social marketing. But concede that "this is the exception" and that you are better off thinking strategically and long-term with social media rather than on momentary gains that are not sustainable.
- He also concedes that the traditional media offer the benefit of quality and focus. Social media provides a lot of irrelevant information that is poorly written and very seldom fact-checked. These shortcomings must be overcome if it is to replace traditional news.
- The fear that advertising will kill social media has some validity, but only for specific venues and not for the aggregate. The fact that AltaVista was clogged with banner ads did not kill search engines, just that one. Social media services are keenly aware of the danger.
- Marketers and Recruiters might be the next professions to fall. Just as online travel reservations made it unnecessary for people to hire a travel agent, so can the distribution network of social media make it unnecessary to hire an advertising agency to distribute product messages, and so can the professional network make it unnecessary to hire someone to find talent.