Not every company is at the same point of maturity with social media, and that’s okay. Every set of business innovations comes with the leading edge adopters, the mainstream adopters, and the late adopters.
When it comes to social business practices, some companies just seem like they’re made to tuck them right in and truck along, uniterrupted. Others have a harder time shifting the tide, and this whole social media thing has got them paralyzed and flustered and wondering what the hell they’re going to do.
Often, that’s because of things like:
- Regulatory, compliance, or strict legal policies
- Legacy communication practices that are fully entrenched in the business
- Lack of resources with the knowledge or skills to adopt and train on new practices
- Debate over who “owns” and is accountable for these strategies (this in another post soon)
- Good old fashioned fear of the unknown
There are ways, however, to start with baby steps toward adoption of social business ideas. It doesn’t always have to be about upending everything you’ve always done. Let’s toss out a few ideas, and have you add yours in the comments.
Social-ize Existing Content
Got a newsletter? Start a blog format and put the content there. Let people comment, and see what they say. Add voting or “like” functionality to parts of your existing website. Put LOTS of ways for people to reach out to you in your print, online, and other media – email addresses, Twitter accounts, phone numbers – and make sure you make the invitation for feedback warm, open, and equipped with a real live human on the other end.
Still doing lots of print? Ask questions and leave some open ended dialogue opportunities in your marketing materials. Ask people to email you their take on an industry topic for publishing on your blog or newsletter. Look at your marketing pieces as catalysts for conversation, not just statements of features and benefits.
Build a new suggestion box. Add something like UserVoice to your mix and let your customers or employees give you feedback. Not yet ready to open that up publicly? Keep it internal for a while and learn what your staff thinks your priorities should be.
Minimize the Insecurities
Yes, it’s okay to have social media guidelines. If you’ve already got an employee handbook, the personal accountability bits in there will cover a lot. But have a look at some social media guidelines and policies from other companies to see what they’re doing and find a set that make you comfortable about covering your bases. You can always roll back stricter policies as you get your feet under you, but if having guiderails makes you feel better about getting started, by all means do it.
Worried about snarky comments on your new blog? Moderate the comments. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t let the negative ones through – you actually should – but with some advanced notice and a chance to see them before you make them public, you can do some direct outreach in the case of someone who’s upset, and spend some time discussing how you’ll handle future criticisms. If it’s just a troll, you’ll learn how to identify and ignore them. And you may just find that your fears about graffiti and negative stuff aren’t as real as you thought they were. Moderation is easy to turn off later when you’re more comfortable.
Communicate Internally. Lots.
If you’re not ready to bring the outside world into your domain quite so openly, start in familiar territory. Use your existing tools like email to start a dialogue among people with an interest in making social media work for your company. Start a discussion group or a team to start laying out a plan, even if it’s in tiny pieces. Talk a lot (and honestly) about why social media is of interest to you, and what you hope it will help you do. Decide who will take charge of which pieces, and decide on goals that you can collectively be accountable for.
Don’t shy away from bringing the tough critics to the table, either. Bring the lawyers and the bosses and the folks with the biggest beefs against social. Ask they why they feel that way, and keep picking apart the dialogue until you get at the root issues. Let the compliance and legal teams work through absolute worst case scenarios with you and figure out how you’d try and handle each.
Most important? Negotiate. Try the “okay, if that won’t work, what can we try” approach. People don’t really want to stand in your way, but they do want to mitigate the potential for blame and real risks (like financial or legal ramifications). Talk them through and try to find the intersection where you both feel comfortable taking a small step toward more open communication.
Is social media a campaign? No. It’s an ongoing commitment, and a long term mindset. BUT. You can make a particular tactic or strategy finite, if nothing else to see how it works. Not every initiative needs to be endless.
Decide you’re going to do a blog campaign around an upcoming event you have, and invite your customers to contribute their experiences from past events to the blog (you can have them submit to you and you post it, to avoid any risks on that front). Post for two months leading up to the event and for two months after. In for a little more effort? Try something like Rachel Reuben and her team did with Cafe New Paltz and set up a community for a group that has a natural closing point (hers was incoming freshmen to her university).
Don’t Buy the Hype.
Hype is called hype for a reason. And yes, there’s plenty of it in social media. There are NO silver bullets in business, least of all in the world of the internet. Social media has powerful potential, and I believe in it more than I have lots of things in many, many years.
I DO believe you have to do this social stuff, because it’s going to get done for you one way or the other, and I’d much rather see you plotting your own course than reacting to others shoving you in face first. But I think that lots of discussion, careful planning, and understanding the upsides and downsides is an important element for doing anything well in the long term.
So are these a helpful start? What have you successfully done to chip away at the fearful mindset inside your company, or what have you seen others do? Let’s learn from each other.