I appreciate the social media communities’ high expectations. We agree that if you are going to do something then you should do it 100%. However, I wonder if our bar isn’t too high sometimes. I recently read a post about Charles Schwab’s “embarrassing attempt” at social media. I checked out the site and yes it is internally focused and makes attempt to monitor the conversation by having comments sent to their PR department for consideration. You could say they are only testing the waters by just dipping their toe and not fully embracing social media. If you have never worked in a big corporation then you may struggle to understand this approach.
Why don’t corporations get it?
When you are a big company with millions customers you analyze every move. You spend lots of money and time with “experts” (many of whom are traditional in their thinking) to decide how you move in the marketplace. Especially in this economy, you are diligent and prudent prior to making any kind of splash as there is no room for costly mistakes. So, you can imagine that getting a company to adopt new practices is like getting a huge ship to turn. Often times, getting a company to just “dip the toe” is a big accomplishment. I speculate this is why we have seen such a slow adoption of social media by companies.
The social media community hasn’t been that accepting of those dipping their toe (Charles Schwab) or patient with companies that may have made mistakes (Motrin) trying something new. I understand the frustration both on the part of the community and the corporations, however we need to find some middle ground or both sides lose the influence they so desire.
Why the control?
The social media community has a disdain for anyone who attempts to control their conversation. The corporation has concerns about losing control of their message since they appreciate the significant risk in doing so. The social media community understands that there is no such thing as message control and have proven time and time again the impact to companies who get caught in the negative viral channel of social networking sites. The corporation senses the need for change and transparency but just like many of us who approve comments on our own blogs to protect us from spam, they want to protect themselves by maintaining some approval control.
It is one thing to understand what to do and another to take action. An analogy might be that I want to get in shape but instead of committing to the $1000 treadmill and the room it will take in my bedroom, I’ll challenge myself to work out every day for 30 days before making the purchase. I do this to justify the investment and risk of cluttering my room with something that I may lose interest in a few months. Nothing is black or white and those of us in the social media space have seen where a few key influences can cause a lot of negative feeling when it might not be justified. As various sites become more mainstream this risk only grows. We have also discussed the long-term sustainability of various platforms…what is hot today may not be tomorrow. Trying to prepare contingency plans to minimize the risk is what scares the hell out of corporate America and is why they tend to move slow in to the space. They don’t want to spend big dollars on something that might negatively impact their brand and/or no longer be relevant tomorrow, hence they test by dipping the toe.
Accelerating adoption and INFLUENCE
To understand why open conversation is so important to us we must understand the value we get from it. Ultimately, we want to participate, be heard, and matter…we want our voices to mean something and be valued…we want to INFLUENCE. The more opportunity to influence the more power we have to get what it is WE want (almost sounds like control doesn’t it? Ahh, the beauty of irony). The more people/companies that are listening the more opportunity we have to influence. We need to accelerate the companies’ adoption of social media space and not slow it down. I am not saying we shouldn’t be critical and demand better, smarter efforts by companies, we absolutely should…it is our responsibility to do so. I am saying we need to be more mature about it. Triggering an assault on companies that might have taken a mis-step or are moving too slowly isn’t going to help with adoption. Quite the contrary. We need to offer solutions, suggestions to improve, and encouragement by welcoming their efforts vs. slamming the door. Think of it as an opportunity to introduce yourselves and offer quality help.
Inviting us to email our opinions to the PR department is better than nothing at all and companies who are giving us an opportunity to influence their decisions should be applauded. Let’s give those companies who are trying the benefit of the doubt that they are listening and attempting to practice new ways to engage with us. Those that don’t will begin to lag behind because our money will be spent on what we want anyway and not what they shout at us.
Before you jump on the next corporate bashing bandwagon think about the very sermon you preach … are you listening? Are you engaging? Are you helping? Or, are you just shouting?