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Summary:

Here are some things I’ve thought about or observed in terms of handling the reluctant social media client.

I’ve been hearing a lot from fellow Web workers about their long-term clients who are resistant to change.

“They don’t want to start a blog,” one says.

“They are afraid of RSS feeds,” says another.

“They don’t even know about MySpace or Facebook,” declares yet another.

Are we all just too “into it” to remember that our clients are often way far away from it?

I’ve been lucky in the last year or so to have some clients who trust me implicitly to lead them down the right path toward enhancing and augmenting their online communications with social media tools. Others, however, dismiss it because it is just so far out of their realm that they would rather put off the discussion than try to understand the implications of a blog or a Twitter account to communicate their message. In some cases, I’ve been able to sneak in a few social media tools with positive results, however, I admit this isn’t very strategic.

Here are some things I’ve thought about or observed in terms of handling the reluctant social media client.

Factor in the education and handholding

If you have a great client you’ve been working with who is resistant to social media but willing to trust you, make sure you factor in the educational process you will have to go through to bring them to a more comfortable place. I’ve had to create special PowerPoint presentations and hold one-on-one sessions to help empower some of my clients so they can embrace a social media strategy instead of looking like a deer caught in headlights. From a business standpoint, you have to account for this additional time and effort and fold it into your consulting fees.

Take only clients who get it

As I look over the web sites of other consultants, I’m struck by how some of them flat out state that they only work with companies who understand that social media is an essential way to communicate online these days. They do say it more elegantly than “we won’t work with you if we have to convince you that our way is important and the smart way.” Quite frankly, while I could find this sort of “pre-selection” language a bit off-putting, I actually applaud them for going for the upper echelon of potential clients who already get it. That cuts out a lot of the convincing and cajoling.

Don’t push social media on everyone

Personally, I can find a good business reason for every company or nonprofit organization to have a blog or a social media presence, but there will always be a capacity issue that could kill any well-intentioned blogging effort. Many companies and nonprofits still don’t realize they can hire a pro-blogger or social media specialist to do the job. They cringe at any suggestion of an additional expense even though the expense is often quite reasonable and manageable or in the case of nonprofits, they could enlist volunteers perfectly willing to participate. If a company or organization is still struggling to get their e-newsletter off the ground, sometimes no amount of explaining that the blog and RSS feed is the “new” e-newsletter will convince them to ditch the old way for the new. Either suck it up and provide them the Web 1.0 service or refer them to someone reliable who is willing to do it for them instead.

Keep the conversation going

Just because you have a client reluctant to embrace social media doesn’t mean the conversation stops there. Keep the dialogue open. Send them links to articles and blog posts that provide further information to increase their understanding. Point them to campaigns you are conducting for other clients to demonstrate what you can do for them. Invite them to local presentations you give where you discuss social media topics. Convince them to just join one social network and then send them referrals through it to show them how powerful it can be for their business.

Just don’t give up.

How do you handle the client or potential client who is still stuck in…2005?

  1. Great post – I struggle with this a lot with clients. Very often I will be asked “how can I get more website visitors?”. They expect the old tricks to be applied to websites, etc – and they will magically get more traffic… but I explain that they need to blog and they should also be engaging their audience with social media. Often the big barrier to it (especially blogging) is that they aren’t *consumers* of blog media – so they really don’t understand what blogging is.

    Sometimes I just advise clients to look for blogs on any subject they like, and make a habit of reading them… they will get a better understanding of how they work.

  2. I used to work at a large corporation where they could not understand the usefulness of chat, IRC, instant access to people nor presence indicators. Rather than explain the tech behind it or why they should use it, our approach was to incrementally let them know WITFM (what’s in it for me). Once they got the first small benefit into their head, it blossomed into “their” idea and things went far easier to apply our tech to “their” next big idea. Just a thought from my experience. Good post.

  3. Another approach I have tried is to demonstrate where our competitors are taking advantage of social media, and compare our presence (or lack thereof). Sometimes seeing the stark differences can be an impetus for action.

  4. I think one of the problems in nonprofits is the threat social media poses to the hierarchy. Small NPOs remain far more authoritarian than corporations can afford to be in the 21st century. I’ve seen a lot of resistance that boils down to, “If we give our employees/constituencies/donors direct access to our information, we can’t control them anymore.”

  5. The biggest parts of the problem are:

    – A generational gap, where those in power often have less of an intuitive grasp of the technology, simply because they don’t use it much, compared to Gen-X/Gen-Y

    – A devolution of control, which is difficult to embrace for those who don’t understand these new media (i.e. management) and who are used to having a tight control on corporate message / communications

    – The overall disruptive nature of these media to corporate culture, routine, etc — even the perception that they might threaten job security in some way

    A lot of organizations talk about embracing these media, but much of it is pro-forma. Walking the walk actually takes a big leap, in terms of corporate culture. That’s why it’s often such a wrench.

    The best you can do is point to case studies (Blendtec, Mentos, Fiskars, etc.) or competitors. And walk the decision-makers at an organization through it all.

  6. Great post! I feel your pain and appreciate the advice and insight offered on how we can best prepare our clients to take the necessary leap.

    Markus – I agree with your comments, especially the bit about corporate culture. Case studies can be extremely helpful in demonstrating the value and impact (measurable results) of social media.

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  8. Ryan Stephens Marketing » 20 Essential Blog Posts From November Thursday, December 18, 2008

    [...] The Reluctant Social Media Client – Aliza Sherman (Web Worker Daily) I’ve been working on a project lately that continually reminds me of how deep I am into this space, and that there are others that just don’t “get it” yet. Aliza offers four great ways to help you handle the reluctant social media client. As for my opinion, they have to want to learn, and if they do they’ll become equipped a lot faster (and be more successful) than the company (person) you have to convince and cajole. [...]

  9. Greg’s Seo Copywriting Services Wednesday, August 12, 2009

    It looks like I’m a case in point! I’m just beginning to look into social media from a business standpoint and my reluctance has been due to not understanding it. I’m seeing more and more the importance of how to help build my business. Thanks!

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