Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
November 16, 2010 3:06 PM

The Fear Is Real

Businesses small, medium and large still have one thing in common: they're scared of Social Media.

That's not entirely true. They're not scared of Social Media, they're scared of trying to cater, answer and amend every little customer service issue in public. They're scared of being held hostage by someone who has a cousin who has a significant following on Twitter. They scared that someone who is Blogging about their company (without any real credibility and knowledge of the company) is tarnishing their image and perpetuating myths or misconceptions.

For the most part, too many companies are missing the point.

Access to information has been disintermediated. Prior to Social Media, if you had a gripe with a company, it was a major effort to get your local news folks interested in the story. If they became interested, the brand in question would not interface with the individual, but (more likely than not), they would use the media channel to mediate the result. Those channels still exist, but they're not as powerful in a world where anyone can have an issue and then publish it (in text, images, audio and video) instantly and for free to the world to see. On top of that, there was/is a social contract between the media and brands. There is, to some extent, rules of engagement. Individuals, customers, consumers, don't know that language. They don't speak it and they're not interested in it.

If you don't have a community to back you up, you'll always look defensive.

The flaw in this thinking is not that it's hard to respond and make customers happy (it always is and always will be challenging to make everybody happy, all of the time). The flaw in this thinking happens because brands are being reactive without a community to help them spread an idea. Brands hop into Social Media with very little equity in the audience. They fail to realize that you don't get a community when you need it, you develop and nurture a community slowly over time, so that when you need something (anything) they are there for. If you're not spending your time in Social Media developing and nurturing that, you will always be in a reactive mode.

Pushing out into the real world.

The paradigm shift in culture within the brand and organization is where the root of success will happen. There has to be an appetite to:

  • Share information in public.
  • Open up.
  • Speak in a human voice.
  • Respond to an issue even if no one is asking about it in the Social Media channels.
  • Use transparency when applicable and possible (sorry to say, that when it comes to companies, they can't always to do this).
  • Adhere to the regulations of their industry while explaining to consumers why it is the way it is - in their language.
  • Ensure that everyone within the organization understand what the company is doing and trying to accomplish with Social Media.
  • Share the positive stuff too (it's not - and should never be - the place to only respond to issues).

But, more importantly...

Understand that the channels and platforms are agnostic. They are as accessible to the brand as they are to an individual. If a company feels slighted by the media, why not leverage Social Media to share and tell your side of the story? Why not let your followers on Twitter know that you don't agree with how a customer is reacting and explain your side? Why not become a media and/or publisher of content (much like your consumers are doing)? All of the concepts listed here mean nothing when the end-game is not about becoming more credible and relevant to your consumer.

All ships rise.

When brands use the channels like their consumers use the channels, something bigger than a halo effect takes place. Individuals begin to see, read and hear how the company truly thinks. Why they think this way and how to get resolution. Brands fear Social Media because they have never really been publishers of content. They have never really been able to use the people within the organization - those with authentic voices - to really speak about the brand. And while this fear is very real and still alive in most organizations, there are enough examples of brands who have used these platforms as an exchange of ideas and issues and an evolution - to the point where it is a healthy eco-system of self-regulation.

It's too bad that this fear is real (but it is). What's your take? How can we make brands less afraid?

By Mitch Joel