I amazes me how much of my time is spent these days talking with people who represent some of the world's largest companies. This is really different for me, but it is where this social media journey has taken me.
I am convinced that for most large companies in many huge categories, the issue is no longer whether or not social media should be used. That genie is out of the bottle. If they want to engage a next generation that is coming into the marketplace and filling corporate seats, they must use it. What little analytics there indicate stupendous growth rates and this means that social media can no longer be disdained or dismissed.
The stress point has now moved to how the enterprise will use social media and I hear a lot about this these days. In nearly every company I talk with, I hear about those who understand that social media is something new and different from traditional marketing. It is not about putting messages into foreheads. It is about the enormous wisdom and efficiency to be gained simply by having conversations with customers, prospects, employees and partners. Clearly I am a champion of this camp.
But in my conversations with people who will be remembered as early pioneers of the new path, there is muttering and trepidation of another camp, one that is often being pushed by the traditional marketing people who see social media simply as another channel to push out brand awareness and product-related messages. It is another way to have the corporation talk about the corporation rather than listen to customer concerns, complaints or even compliments. This camp believes that early days of wide-eyed dreamers like me have passed and now that social media is swimming in the mainstream. It should be treated as mainstream marketing treats everything, a mechanism for the one-way pushing of message.
My Camp #1 friends are very concerned that those efforts by members of their enterprise will ruin it; will take social media and bend and distort it and thus ruin it for the rest of us. If Company XX marketing department produces smarmy social media programs, it will damage the credibility of Company XYZ's social media champions.
I have to admit, there is that danger. But I don't think it will come out that way. I don't think that someone who uses the new tools the way I happen to think they should be used will have their reputation suffer, Let me tell you why.
So far, nearly every deceptive social media attempt has failed. Real people come to blogs and social media in search of real people they connect to. They are looking for content which is useful or interesting. Regular social media followers understand that Microsoft, for example, does not, think with one mind, but with nearly 60,000 of them that GM does not speak with one voice or language, but with over 275,000. The 85,000 or so Intel employees do not march in step with each other and their taste in the drummers marking cadence is quite diverse.
So if you blog with transparency and candor about your corporate job and the guy down the hall is devising a character blog by a talking moose to extend brand, he or she may hurt the brand or simply waste company resources, but that effort will not hurt yours, and that is why, in the long run, the simple, interactive credible path will prove to be the wise course for most companies whose employees take pride in their products and services.
My views have very little to do with "soft values," that non-tangible feel good stuff that many executive officers frown up. It has more to do with the smartest business course. Technology has made conversations scalable. You can talk with customers in seconds all over the world. The cost of it is quite low. If you give your audience something valuable. If you show you are listening, you will gain significantly in customer retention, loyalty and their carrying your virtues forward with tools that put word of mouth on steroids.
Quite simply, social media is more efficient than traditional marketing. It lets you build better products and services. It shortens the time-to-customer. It is less costly than advertising and more effective. It gets the people most passionate about your company to talk to others where they have more influence than celebrity endorsement. It is more credible by far than traditional PR. It gives your company greater prominence in search engines by orders of magnitude over traditional web sites.
Quite simply social media makes pragmatic business sense as both a customer relations engine and as a marketing, support and development cost-cutter.
There may be two camps in the enterprise today. But I have very little doubt that one will get larger as the other withers in atrophy.