The difficulty in social media, contrary to frequent discussion, isn't in how to use the tools or the tactics. It's not about measurement or determining ROI. Those things are tangible, and solvable, with time, dedication, and elbow grease.
The challenge lies here: for most companies, adopting social media means changing their mindset about how they do business. Because the fundamental principles behind social media - and the reasons why it is so powerful - involve giving your customers a visible, valuable say in how you do things, and having the faith that doing that is just good business.
It's still perplexing to me sometimes that the idea of customer-centric business is still so frightening to some businesses. They're the people who ultimately make sure the bills are paid, after all (and delighted customers tend to buy more stuff). But I suppose it's endemic to our process-laden business world. We've forgotten sometimes what the hell we're in business for in the first place. And faith in business is truly a four-letter word.
There are realistic considerations when embarking on social media - risks of liability or disclosure or other legally important stuff. Then there are the perceived "risks" that are really thinly veiled defenses and justifications of processes, practices, and approaches that we've grown comfortable with, whether or not they're really working anymore.
For many companies, I fear their reticence to embark on this social stuff is about the fear not just of failure - heaven knows we fail in business on a regular basis in ways we've grown comfortable with - but of blame and accountability. (Big hat tip to the inimitable Seth Godin for this ever-so-important distinction that turned a million lightbulbs on in my head.)
The culture of control has really screwed us up over the years. We've tried so hard to remove every possible variable from allowing anyone, anywhere, to blame us for screwing something up. If we fall back on the tried, even if its not true, we can at least say that it wasn't our idea in the first place, we were just following tradition or protocol or orders or whatever. If we control things based on how they've always been done, it's a flaw in the process, not in our judgment. In short, it wasn't our fault.
But social media's adoption flies in the face of control in so many ways. Control of your message. Control of people's opinions about you and where they spread them. Control over every detail of how your "campaign" unfolds. Control (or at the very least, predictability) of outcomes.
Because people and their voices - the heart and soul of successful social anything - aren't bought or controlled or predicted. They never have been. They're earned. And the very act of earning not just the attention but the affinity of those people means you have to risk doing something different in order to do something truly valuable.
What that something is may not be the same every time. It may challenge years of "best practices" (gosh, I'm really starting to hate that term) and fly in the face of every cited "case study" there is. Because this is about putting people back at the center of business, on both sides of the table (and inside your own walls). It requires tireless dialogue, and the willingness to value what you learn from that dialogue above your preconceived notions in order to guide where you go next.
Give me enough time and access and I can build you a workflow. I can map you out a blueprint for your social media efforts and give you a damn good plan complete with strategies, tactics, metrics, and the whole enchilada. I can point you to three dozen other people that can do the same thing.
But all of those things are utterly wasted if you aren't willing to accept a responsibility to do right by the customers that drive your business, and empower and trust the people that work for you to make that the focus of their work, every day. And if you can't trust that your employees can do that, you have a leadership or hiring problem, not a process problem. (h/t @Zappos)
Until and unless you're willing to change (hell, shatter) the things that might be standing in the way of better connecting your customers to your business' reason for existence, social media for you will be nothing but superficial - and a failure.
Culture matters. And culture change is hard. It's the underpinning to success in most business things, but especially this. Expectations are for companies are changing. The question for your business now is whether you've the humility - and the courage - to rise up and meet them.
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