Social media can be an incredible tool, both for producing and consuming incredible amounts of information. Over the last few years, there is no question that an unprecedented change has taken place, putting tools for publication and discovery in the hands of everyone – from simple text to photos and video. Social media tools are changing businesses in terms of how they can connect with customers, partners, peers and even the competition. But the non-stop promotion of the tools and, yes, the individuals who think they are “experts” is getting a little overwhelming.
I believe that social media activity, be it Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, YouTube, blog comments, Flickr, SlideShare or any other service, is part of the infrastructure. It is quickly becoming part of everything we do – both for our work lives and for personal lives. While, right now, it may seem brand new, and exciting, so too did e-mail and e-commerce just a decade or two ago, if you remember. Now, both are just part of getting things done.
In addition to the scads of self-proclaimed social media experts on just about every network, many of the companies that have initiated new media practices are practically falling over themselves offering self-congratulatory praise for how they embraced these new technologies. I have even seen companies issue a product release, or a viral video touting a new feature, and on the next day, see blog posts go up, bragging about how they synchronized multiple outlets and honed in on a single message, patting themselves on the back. While that’s all fine and good, the reality is that you cannot measure the success of a marketing campaign by a single day – and if social media is “just another tool”, like a CRM system, or a marketing database, it really should be executed without fanfare.
The best corporate social media usage is that which is transparent, but humble.
Zappos raised its visibility through wholescale adoption of Twitter, and an embracing of company culture that was friendly and personal – no doubt helping the company accelerate sales and become a solid acquisition target for Amazon.
Comcast Cares has been successful through the diligence of Frank Eliason, a single employee, who put their soul into social with the aim of helping customers, not trying to increase market share, profit margins or stock prices.
Dell turned around what was initially a very poor online reputation to one that is actively offering discounts via Twitter[/LINK] and making significant sales.
Companies that do leverage social media need to recognize that by participating in these social networks, they are asking customers to do the equivalent of inviting them into their homes. By saying you are a “fan” of a product on Facebook, or that you are “following” a company on Twitter, you are translating the abstract corporate behemoth to something that is personal. And with that personal element comes an unwritten promise, that you will act in a way that is respectable, like a “friend”. And as you know, friends don’t kiss and tell.
Yes, we may still be early in the process of companies grokking and adopting social media practices. For some, sending out a tweet can be dramatically more challenging than sending an e-mail. Creating a Facebook page may be intimidating. But at the end of the day, these are tools. These are infrastructure. And infrastructure, with rare exceptions, is not all that sexy. So let’s focus as much on the end result of our activity as the activity itself.
Louis Gray, author of louisgray.com, an early adopter Silicon Valley blog focused on real time, technology innovation and social media, is the General Manager of New Media at Paladin Advisors Group in Woodside, California.