Why Should I Engage in Social Media?

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.

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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

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