Friday, December 16, 2011

The Social Media Question Plaguing Businesses

Over the past few years, social media has drastically changed the landscape of strategic communications. Advertisers, marketers and PR pros have embraced social media as a way to extend and monitor brands' engagement with audiences; small businesses and entrepreneurs have taken advertising and brand management into their own hands, building their businesses online.

But despite the wealth of books and blogs talking about the myriad of ways in which businesses can wield the power of social media, many are still hesitant to get on board. Here's a list of the top 5 excuses for holding out: 

1.    "We need to be taken seriously." I totally understand! Many business owners think of social media sites as an internet fad that their teenagers use to post silly pictures with friends and follow the likes of Paris Hilton and the Kardashians. It makes sense that businesses, especially B2B, are concerned that participation in social media may make them appear frivolous. Nevertheless, there are many ways for businesses to maintain a sense of professionalism, while still being human. For instance, LinkedIn, a social networking site for professionals, is useful for recruiters, professional referrals, and doing your research before meetings and networking events.

2.    "People in our industry aren't on social media." How can you be so sure? It's true that some industries are slower to embrace technology than others, but companies are made up of people.  It's impossible to know if the people that you want to reach are online unless you look for them. Setting up a profile (or borrowing someone else's) to run a few keyword searches never hurt anyone. What you find may surprise you. Plus, if you consider that thousands of people join social media networks every day, it stands to reason that many of the people you want to connect with will eventually join, even if they're not there yet. Why not pave the way for them to find you when they get there? It will only put you ahead of the game.

3.    "It seems like a waste of time." Hmmm...Are free lead development, referrals, customer satisfaction feedback, SEO enhancement, networking, sharing industry-relevant information, establishing oneself as a leader and gathering information about customers, competition and prospects a waste of time? Most people don't think so. And the use of a social media "dashboard," such as Hootsuite or TweetDeck, makes it easy to plan and schedule future posts, so that account maintenance can be done whenever it's convenient.

4.    "What would we say?" There is a common misperception that every tweet and/or post must be original. Not so! In fact, "relentless self-promotion" is annoying to many people. But "sharing," or the referencing and passing-along of articles and ideas posted by others is a completely valid and appreciated practice. Many people find "curators," or people that routinely share quality, relevant information that they find elsewhere, to be a time-saving treasure. As long as you give them credit, the people whose content you have shared will also appreciate your help in the distribution of their messages. It's really a win-win-win situation. Beyond that, feel free to post news about your company's activities and news related to your industry, respond to questions and comments about your company or industry, and occasional feel-good personal musings. After all, people prefer to do business with people they know and like.

5.    "What if something goes wrong?" This is a valid, yet avoidable concern. First, exercise good judgment for every post. As a rule, since the online community is the largest public space in the world, don't post anything online that you wouldn't be comfortable sharing with everyone. If you wouldn't say it in a client meeting, to your coworkers, investors, grandparents or children, don't say it on social media. When in doubt, don't post it. You can always say it later, but you can never take it back. And in the case of a faux pas, apologize and correct the statement as soon as possible.

Social media is not one-size-fits-all. It is not appropriate for industries relying on extreme confidentiality, those who only do business with a few, very select clients, or those who simply don't have the time, interest or ability to keep it up. However, there are many benefits to be had by those who set their skepticism aside and decide to engage.

This blog post was contributed by C.Pharr's fall intern, Kate Kampa.

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