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Why Should I Engage in Social Media?

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786371_gears_4How many times are you hearing the question, “Why should I engage in social media?” during your work week? I’m hearing it often, and it’s reminding me of 1995 and 1996, when clients — and colleagues — were asking “Why should I have a web site?” And who remembers when the question was “Why should I have email/a cellphone/a computer/a typewriter/a telephone?” OK, maybe none of you remember the old telephone question, but I heard that when the telephone was first introduced as a consumer product, most families were appalled with the concept of putting a phone into their homes and saw it as an invasion of their privacy. Yes, the telephone.

Here is how I try to explain to people who may not be convinced that they — or their company — should be using social media for business. Hopefully, this proves helpful to those of you in the position of reaching the decision makers who are ignoring social media outright and consider it a fad.


While this decision tree may seem a bit simplistic, it’s meant to illustrate that when using social media tactics and tools, you must:

  1. Start with a deep understanding of your business goals; and
  2. Make them part of an overall marketing strategy.

A good phrase to use with clients is: “Social media is not a silver bullet.”  Make sure they aren’t looking to social media — or any set of tools or tactics, for that matter — as the one thing that will catapult them toward business success. That’s reckless. But also let them know that putting their heads in the sand hoping this social media thing will just go away will put them at a disadvantage, especially if they don’t at least try to understand what it is and what it could potentially do for their business.

Those of us who engage in social media understand that it is first and foremost about conversations and connections, so if one isn’t prepared to engage closely, frequently and almost intimately with one’s customers or potential customers, then jumping feet first into social media may not be a wise business move. We need to communicate this to our clients without scaring the heck out of them. Anything different can be scary, and social media is vastly different from what most traditional marketers are used to, so it’s up to us to shine a little light down that dark tunnel of the unknown.

Not everyone who is dragging their heels about social media is being unreasonable. Try to pinpoint why they’re avoiding it. Is it a knee-jerk reaction or a reasonable decision based on the limited information they have at hand?

If you’ve ever been at the forefront of any adoption of new technologies, you’ll know that there’s an advantage to waiting out something newfangled: You can learn from other people’s mistakes. The flip side to putting something like social media on the backburner, as you know, is that your clients will probably miss out on first-mover advantages, and they may lose market share to companies that understand that today’s consumer is empowered through social media.

If a client is unwilling — or unable — to interact with their customers in new ways, those customers may turn to companies that have a presence where they like to communicate (Facebook, MySpace, Twitter). They may favor companies that listen, respond, engage, interact and respect this new breed of customers.

You know all this. It’s just up to you to responsibly communicate this to your clients. This isn’t about hype and hyperbole. This is about making sound, rational, strategic business decisions to identify market and communications shifts and to adapt sensibly to them in order to stay in touch with one’s customers.

Social media is a tool, just like email is a tool, and just like a web site is a tool. Guide your clients to at least consider the new tools that are out there and that are probably having a major impact on their companies today, not to mention the effects they’re going to have tomorrow. I pity the fool who doesn’t at least pull their head out of the sand and ask the right questions in an attempt to make sound business decisions. If you understand this and have clients who don’t, it’s up to you to do some gentle pulling so they can see the new landscape around them.

Why do you engage in social media? What do you tell people who don’t or won’t?

Photo credit: stock.xchng user kavitha

14 Responses to “Why Should I Engage in Social Media?”

  1. I have company that does web design and seo and we are thinking about offering social media sites. How does a company offer this service to their clients? Do you set up the sites for them and show them how to use them and have them go from there? How do you determine pricing? Any information about this would be appreciated!

  2. There seems to be a growing tension in the world of social media!

    Almost every client brief now asks how we would place brands within the social environment. And I find myself questioning if there really is a place for every, or even any brand, within our personal pages online?

    Aren’t the likes of Facebook and Twitter the realm of mates rather than marketing, of chat instead of commerce, of sharing, not shopping?

    Perhaps it is for these very reasons that brands are so keen to be part of the social sphere? Marketing managers doubtless recognise this ’emotional’ environment as very different from the “rational” destinations they create for their own brands online. They no doubt also note their own changed state of mind, when looking at their Facebook pages or writing their latest Tweet? These are times when we are all off-duty, open-minded, less cynical and potentially more receptive.

    As an agency, we do believe there is a place for brands within the social sphere, but only if a certain mindset and approach is applied:

    . social media is a personal, emotional space – standard advertising and promotion isn’t appropriate

    . context and personalisation are key, relating to users, their likes and dislikes, preferably on an individual basis, are likely to engage and, therefore, succeed

    . considering and involving friends and groups is a powerful way to achieve relevant and timely interest

    . overall, this is a pretty intolerant space – ‘road-blocking’ or ‘spamming’ is guaranteed to create a negative brand reaction

    In sum, our belief is that there is no problem combining brand messages with our personal spaces, as long as sensitivity and care are used.

    Playing devil’s advocate now, allowing advertiser access to our beloved social media sites may be a necessity anyway! Facebook, Twitter and other social spaces operate under generally unsustainable revenue models today. Inviting brands to get more involved may be the only way we can hold on to these sites we have become so attached to.

    Indeed, it would appear that Facebook’s recent news about imminent profitability is heavily driven by The Gift Shop, Facebook Connect, and other ways brands can engage on a deeper, better informed level with consumers, as opposed to monetisation of display advertising alone.

  3. The line about the “silver bullet” certainly rings true. Many businesses have already had someone sat in their offices telling that they need a Facebook page and must be on Twitter. Typically these companies already have a website and want to see some value in why they should redesign and why they need to start networking with their customers and fans. They want to know what the direct link is between social media and generating revenue. It’s just a natural reaction especially when social media is all the hype. The common end result is that either companies don’t have the budget for social media or they don’t have the time or the resources to commit to growing their voice online without seeing an exact match in revenue for their expenditures.

    However, some companies are at the other end of the scale and want this “Twitter application” right away and once it’s installed the money will apparently start rolling in. Marketing sites such as “10,000 followers in 2 days” don’t exactly make the murky waters any clearer. It’s great to have 10,000 followers, it’s what you do with those followers that counts.

    I typically walk right in and ask companies “what is your product,” “who is your customer” and “how do you make money?” It’s direct, totally traditional, but it clues me in right away and it’s impossible and a waste of their time to talk to a company about an online strategy if they can’t sum up in less than 140 characters who they are, what they sell and why their customers need their products or services. How are they going to get out there online and actively socialize with their fans if they are unable to reduce their offline, brochure overflowed, marketing speak into bite sized chunks?

    Like this article says, social media is a tool. It’s a tool that you can add to your belt along with the telephone, email, fax, leaflet drops, your personal image and a whole wide catalog of other very traditional and more technological tools. Social Media is not a new transaction method to directly move money from a customer to the company’s balance sheet.

  4. I still don’t get the hang of ths social media stuff – I guess it’s a sign of my impending senility – at the moment too it is Twitter that is all the rage but I can’t help thinking it’s getting a bit old and pretty soon there will be something else that will come along to replace it

    • While it’s true that Twitter could be replaced (I can’t see it happening just yet, but it can change quickly; MySpace used to be the number 1 social network not all that long ago…), that’s no reason not to take advantage of it right now.

  5. svsashank

    A very useful illustration on how businesses can choose and align themselves to inculcate best practices and unleash the power of social media.

    twitter: @svsashank