This week, I’d like to explore 4 concerns of the Mistrusting: fear of losing control, fear of change, lack of commitment or support, and lack of knowledge or skill. The other name for The Mistrusting is The Missing because they’re absent from social media. (If you need more background on what I’m talking about, please read last week’s blog.) To lighten things up – and because I’m inspired by the music playing in the background -, I’m going to use song titles as sub-heads. Grab a cup of coffee or tea, sit back and relax…this is going to be a longer post.
Losing Control (I.e. Fear of Losing Control)
Control over what? According to a report Flowtown published in February 2010, each year the number of people engaging in social conversations on the web increases by about 30%. The same analysis reveals that 80% of the social community’s engagement with content happens on platforms other than the one the content originated on. (1)
Whether or not a business embraces social media is only part of the equation. Many people already have – and they can (and will) say whatever they want to about your company. Dialogs and information exchange are already happening online.
Social media does not create these conversations, it just provides a series of platforms to move them online and uncover them. People have been talking about companies before social media came into existence. The difference is that today information travels faster and to more people. It leaves a digital trail in many languages and on multiple platforms. Generally speaking, a company’s resistance to social media may ease if it came to realize that lack of participation could hurt them more in the long run than participation, or that influencing the conversation can bring more benefits than trying to control it or avoid it. You simply can’t control it because you can’t control everything that people are saying online. So change the game: listen to it, learn from it, prioritize it and influence it as needed.
The Wind of Change (I.e. Fear of Change)
The fear of losing control is still a significant concern for many, but there are other inhibitors as well. Some may argue that their company has always done business in a certain way that does not involve social media and it has worked for them in the past. Or, they might say that they don’t believe their customers use or respond to social media. Or, they just don’t understand the relevance of social media to them. These tend to be the most common assumptions, especially in the business-to-business world.
The fear of change (or losing control) might be as extreme as not opening up social media access from office resources. A study commissioned by Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm, found that 54% of US companies block employees’ access while on the job to social media sites. (2) If people in charge set policies that prohibit employees from using social networks at work; then even with the best intentions, employees won’t be able to engage in social media activities during work hours while using corporate IT resources. However, times are changing. And those companies who do not embrace change will find themselves at a disadvantage in the future. At this point, many of you must be thinking: “it doesn’t make sense for every company to engage”. Of course, I’m speaking generally here.
In the book “The Living Company” (1997), Arie DeGeus states that the average life span of a Fortune 500 company is about 40 years and 98% of American companies disappear within 11 years. This means that if a corporation wants to live longer, it will have no choice but to adapt and adopt. Change is constant so the question becomes “do you want to make change happen or do you want it to happen to you?” Depending on the path a firm decides to take, the outcome can be drastically different.
Without a doubt, a lot has changed over the past decade, and there are 2 fundamental trends I’d like to highlight:
- With the emergence, proliferation and evolution of online, mobile and virtual tools, it has become easy to stay connected.
- The line between one’s professional and personal life has become blurry.
These two trends have made us, marketers, reevaluate:
- how, where and when we can reach our target audience and
- how, where and when this audience can engage with us. For example, in our search for innovative marketing techniques for the Cisco ASR 1000 Aggregation Services Router launch, we discovered that many IT managers at our customers were online gamers at night so we created an online game that allowed people to explore the features and benefits of this product in a fun and unusual way.
Although this blog focuses on marketing, it is important to mention that these trends are impacting many other areas as well. The first is employees. A business may decide to block access to social sites from work resources, but an employee may still have his or her personal social media accounts which he or she can use in any way he or she likes. One would hope that employees use common sense when posting to their profiles, but that might not always be the case. One way or another, online conversations about companies are taking place before, during and after business hours by customers, partners, employees, and other happy and unhappy people.
A few final facts for the Mistrusting to consider. Generation Yers are in the workforce today and digital natives will soon enter. They’re just at the beginning of their careers and they will be climbing the corporate ladder in the coming years. Research found that 96% of 18-35-year olds are on social networking sites (3) and it’s just a matter of time before they get into decision-making roles. And when they do, they will start transforming the corporate culture from the inside out to become a social media-inclusive work environment if it is not happening already. This is how they communicate personally and they will want to have the same methods of communication available to them professionally. Down the road, a company without social media support can be at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting new employees.
Easy to Ignore (I.e. No Commitment, No Support)
A less extreme form of hindering social media adoption is by ignoring it. Why is this a problem? Because you can only do so much with the resources you have if your leadership is not behind you. You can have small wins but probably not enough to help you advance. Having an executive sponsor especially early on is critical. The role of this champion is to allow and encourage experimentation, help align resources (human and financial) as necessary to aid in the exploration, evangelize the progress and results with his or her peers in the larger organization, and guide the pioneers to help find answers to the skeptics’ questions.
What it really comes down to is that management needs to realize 2 things:
- Social media is no different than email marketing (or any other now considered traditional marketing) was many years ago. It began with a lot of doubts and questions but has grown to become an integral part of any marketing effort.
- BtoBs can’t stop or control social media. Instead, the focus should shift to guiding the conversation. And you can’t guide it if you don’t participate.
Whether you are at the point where your company is ignoring social media or flat out blocking it, here is another interesting piece of information to consider. A report done by Altimeter in 2009 found correlation between deep engagement and a company’s financial performance. “Companies deeply engaged in social media grew revenues by 18% over last year…companies that were least engaged dropped 6% on average.” (4)
Lost (I.e. How Do I Get Started?)
Let’s say the company is ready to jump in but doesn’t know how. Businesses that have not yet embraced social media on any level have a variety of tools and resources available to get started. Consider the following options:
- Browse the web. Google “social media” or visit SlideShare.net for case studies and “how to”-s.
- Connect with practitioners.
- Follow somebody you think is doing social media well and observe how they do it.
- Simply open a personal account on any social media platform and start experimenting. It will help to listen first.
- Select a few platforms and already existing conversations and follow them for a while.
- Attend industry events, seminars and webinars. Search LinkedIn and Twitter for these venues, join a TweetChat or attend a TweetUp.
- Ask your (grand)son, (grand)daughter, niece or nephew. Or just ask someone of a younger generation at work who lives and breathes these types of communication methods. At Cisco, for example, we have reverse mentoring where our management meets with and learns from generation Y team members on how to use social networking sites.
- Hire an agency to get started.
Many people may find social media intimidating at first, but we need to adapt and adopt it because it’s not going away. Whether you’re an observer or an active participant, engagement can happen on many levels. If you’re new or just now considering your social entry, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. And as a special treat, I thought it would be appropriate to close this week’s blog with this song:
TO BE CONTINUED…