Social Media For the Risk Averse

fearNot 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.

Be Finite.

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.

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]

  • http://www.bbteam.com Peter Scherman

    Amber, at our company we are consultants for the Innkeeping industry. Like many industries, social media is having a profound impact. Some innkeepers have embraced social media in a big way and are using it effectively. Admittedly, most of those who are doing it really well are younger, but that’s not an excuse, nor is it a rule!

    We’ve stressed the fact that with something like TripAdvisor, for example, Innkeepers can hide their head in the sand and hope it goes away, or, as we suggest, they can embrace it, work it, and use it to their marketing advantage. Now, after a couple of years harping on this, more and more innkeepers understand the power of the tool and are getting business because of it.

    Others are starting to use blogs effectively marketing their area and what to do more than their inn itself. Ditto for Facebook fan pages about their properties. Twitter took on a life of its own after a conference earlier in the year but seems to be losing its luster for some. Not understanding how to use it is killing it for many (too much blah, blah). Again, those that have the right following and know how to use the medium can get benefit from it.

    I often send people to your blog at Altitude Branding, Amber. I think you’re one of the best at explaining what to do and why to do it. Keep up the great work!

    Peter Scherman
    The B&B Team, Inn Consultants and Brokers

  • http://www.bbteam.com Peter Scherman

    Amber, at our company we are consultants for the Innkeeping industry. Like many industries, social media is having a profound impact. Some innkeepers have embraced social media in a big way and are using it effectively. Admittedly, most of those who are doing it really well are younger, but that’s not an excuse, nor is it a rule!

    We’ve stressed the fact that with something like TripAdvisor, for example, Innkeepers can hide their head in the sand and hope it goes away, or, as we suggest, they can embrace it, work it, and use it to their marketing advantage. Now, after a couple of years harping on this, more and more innkeepers understand the power of the tool and are getting business because of it.

    Others are starting to use blogs effectively marketing their area and what to do more than their inn itself. Ditto for Facebook fan pages about their properties. Twitter took on a life of its own after a conference earlier in the year but seems to be losing its luster for some. Not understanding how to use it is killing it for many (too much blah, blah). Again, those that have the right following and know how to use the medium can get benefit from it.

    I often send people to your blog at Altitude Branding, Amber. I think you’re one of the best at explaining what to do and why to do it. Keep up the great work!

    Peter Scherman
    The B&B Team, Inn Consultants and Brokers

    • Amber Naslund

      Peter,

      Thanks for the kind words and for being here. Your point is so important. Feedback and honest input on how your business is faring “out there” is nearly always valuable information. It’s all in what you do with it. And ignoring it doesn’t make it disappear, it just forces folks to find other places to voice their displeasure. And they will.

      Thanks for adding your voice and for contributing your experience to your industry. Can’t wait to keep hearing about your adventures.

      Amber

  • http://www.polarunlimited.com/readitfor.me steve cunningham

    Amber – taking the newsletter and making it into a blog format is a great first step. The problem with just changing the delivery mechanism is that we are creating a platform that was meant for engagement and filling it with content that was meant as a one-way communication. All too often that leads to the “I told you this social media stuff won’t work” talk when there are no comments on the blog.

    I think the magic is in convincing those who are risk averse to social media is to show them to possibilities that come with creating content that truly gets people engaged and involved – like you obviously do here. Without it, I think the first step will always be doomed to failure.

  • http://www.polarunlimited.com/readitfor.me steve cunningham

    Amber – taking the newsletter and making it into a blog format is a great first step. The problem with just changing the delivery mechanism is that we are creating a platform that was meant for engagement and filling it with content that was meant as a one-way communication. All too often that leads to the “I told you this social media stuff won’t work” talk when there are no comments on the blog.

    I think the magic is in convincing those who are risk averse to social media is to show them to possibilities that come with creating content that truly gets people engaged and involved – like you obviously do here. Without it, I think the first step will always be doomed to failure.

    • Amber Naslund

      Hi Steve,

      You’re right about the first bit. I think it can be an interesting insight into how well that content is received in the first place, actually. No comments means maybe you need to be paying different or better attention to what you’re publishing.

      But you’re right – there’s a fine line between saying “look, we added comments and no one’s commenting.” We have to keep educating folks that lack of engagement is not always the fault of the community or the medium. Businesses need to be mature enough to consider the possibility that THEY need to change something, too. That’s just smart business, and has little to do with social media.

      A

      • http://www.jeremymeyers.com/ Jeremy Meyers

        The thing to remember is that not getting any responses is in itself a response, and really highly valuable data.

  • http://blogs.open.collab.net/oncollabnet Guy Martin

    Amber,

    Very good points, as always – I’ll agree with Steve though that companies taking ‘baby-steps’ need to be careful not to view social media as a ‘one-way marketing blast’, which often happens.

    I believe it is also important to be *very* careful how you spin social media participation – telling companies they should get involved to help ‘plot the course’ is (IMHO) right on the edge of convincing them that they can control the message, which we all know is very unlikely (and detrimental) in social media.

    Other than those two things, I think you’ve given some great concrete ‘first steps’ to get different stakeholders to the table and involved in what is likely to be a very important medium for all of us in the future.

  • http://blogs.open.collab.net/oncollabnet Guy Martin

    Amber,

    Very good points, as always – I’ll agree with Steve though that companies taking ‘baby-steps’ need to be careful not to view social media as a ‘one-way marketing blast’, which often happens.

    I believe it is also important to be *very* careful how you spin social media participation – telling companies they should get involved to help ‘plot the course’ is (IMHO) right on the edge of convincing them that they can control the message, which we all know is very unlikely (and detrimental) in social media.

    Other than those two things, I think you’ve given some great concrete ‘first steps’ to get different stakeholders to the table and involved in what is likely to be a very important medium for all of us in the future.

    • Amber Naslund

      Guy,

      Let me be super duper clear about what I mean by “plot the course”. What I’m saying is that it’s much, much better to be AWARE and PREPARED for the possibilities that social can bring to you, rather than just getting thrust into it because of a crisis and being forced to react from behind.

      Truth is, the issue of control is a fallacy on BOTH sides. (see my post a few back for what I mean). There’s a difference between taking care in crafting and planning your output and content, and controlling the REACTION to that output. The first is a positive, and what all businesses SHOULD be doing. The latter is like saying you can control people’s opinions about anything. And social media sure isn’t the only thing to make that untrue.

      If you read my stuff, you know I’m as adamant as anyone that the court of public opinion has NEVER been in your sway, and businesses are now realizing that it’s just really easy to hear what those opinions are (and harder to put their heads in the sand).

      But it’s super, super important that we are responsibly saying to businesses, too, that they CAN be methodical and strategic about their social media efforts, and that not everything they do or experience has to be at the mercy of the mob.

      Amber

  • http://www.jeremymeyers.com/ Jeremy Meyers

    The thing to remember is that not getting any responses is in itself a response, and really highly valuable data.

  • http://blogs.open.collab.net/oncollabnet Guy Martin

    Amber,

    Yup, I knew exactly what you meant – that comment was more for the likes of some folks I’ve worked with in previous lives that may not have had the history of having read all of your previous stuff, & who would be just the kind of people to misinterpret the message.

    Thanks for the excellent clarification. :)

  • http://blogs.open.collab.net/oncollabnet Guy Martin

    Amber,

    Yup, I knew exactly what you meant – that comment was more for the likes of some folks I’ve worked with in previous lives that may not have had the history of having read all of your previous stuff, & who would be just the kind of people to misinterpret the message.

    Thanks for the excellent clarification. :)

  • http://GlobalPatriot.com Global Patriot

    If companies only do one thing I tell them to Social-ize Existing Content. It’s the easiest thing to do, as the content is already written, and it extends their reach to individuals who may not see them any other way.

  • http://GlobalPatriot.com Global Patriot

    If companies only do one thing I tell them to Social-ize Existing Content. It’s the easiest thing to do, as the content is already written, and it extends their reach to individuals who may not see them any other way.

  • http://www.carakeithley.com Cara Keithley

    Amber, this is something valuable for many industries, including government and higher education. It is not an acceptable answer anymore for organizations to say that social media isn’t “safe.” The worst time to have to enter this sphere is in the middle of a crisis, when you have no foundation in social media.

    Right now, we are dealing with organizations who are timid and still operating in a 1980′s public relations mentality. To ease the worries of making a big leap, it is great to advocate making calculated steps and assessing periodic results. This will provide learning opportunities and hopefully small successes that will fuel organizational confidence needed for larger changes.

    I try to explain this in terms of shifting external relations from a one-way to a two-way conversation. All of the tools and strategies just help us facilitate this change. The first baby step here is to recognize that this change is necessary.

    Thanks for acknowledging that some organizations have a harder time breaking into this realm.

  • http://www.carakeithley.com Cara Keithley

    Amber, this is something valuable for many industries, including government and higher education. It is not an acceptable answer anymore for organizations to say that social media isn’t “safe.” The worst time to have to enter this sphere is in the middle of a crisis, when you have no foundation in social media.

    Right now, we are dealing with organizations who are timid and still operating in a 1980′s public relations mentality. To ease the worries of making a big leap, it is great to advocate making calculated steps and assessing periodic results. This will provide learning opportunities and hopefully small successes that will fuel organizational confidence needed for larger changes.

    I try to explain this in terms of shifting external relations from a one-way to a two-way conversation. All of the tools and strategies just help us facilitate this change. The first baby step here is to recognize that this change is necessary.

    Thanks for acknowledging that some organizations have a harder time breaking into this realm.

  • Pingback: SOB Business Cafe 10-16-09 | Liz Strauss at Successful Blog

  • Pingback: Box Scores: Oct. 12-18 – “Twitter Psychology and Creative Juices” « Work. Play. Do Good.

  • Pingback: Social Media Best Practices — Social Media Coaching Center

  • Pingback: Corporate Social Media Policy and Risk Management — Des Walsh dot Com