In many conferences, the favorite audience question is ‘Should I be on Social Media?” And the panel - usually made up of large, successful brands, gives an enthusiastic “Yes!”
But social media is just another communication channel, and should go through the same due diligence that you did when setting up the website, telephone hotline or PO Box.
Here are some factors you should think about before taking the plunge:
1. Your product sucks.
Don’t get me wrong, you don’t mean for it to suck. And certainly, if you work in an evolved, mature industry, it won’t, because you can control all the variables. But what about industries where, because of regulatory issues or supply chain issues, you don’t (yet) have 100% control over production? For example a builder can control the quality of the final building, but if the sand or cement companies go on strike, there can be a delay in completion.
Or brick-and-mortar organizations in start-up mode where they are still gradually learning to scale? Say you run a high-end, highly creative boutique ad agency. Your creative director is a genius but you don’t (yet) have two of them and unfortunately her dog falls sick on the day of an important deliverable, and she can’t come in. Your output suffers. It’s a temporary setback but if your client has a huge network and vents his frustration publicly it could shutdown your fledgling firm. Because your client will forgive you when she sees the wonderful campaign, but the comments are archived forever for an unforgiving public.
Eventually, if you’re a good businessperson, you will plan for these problems and control them. But in the interim? Should you provide a forum for people to flame you publicly?
2. A microscopic % of your target audience actually uses social media
India has around 30 million people on social media today (at least that’s what I hear at conferences) and that is increasing rapidly and is expected to hit 100 million soon. Big numbers. But we’re a country of 1 billion and many companies have less than 100 customers, and a prospect list of less than 1000. Unless you have data (just ask your customers!) that shows that your particular audience uses social media and is active enough to be influenced there, you’d be quite ok to postpone your arrival in the digital world. Much like many companies delayed their web presence till a sufficient number of customers could access the net.
The early adopters of social media tend to be disproportionately vocal and influential. Many have excellent reach with mass media, making the message ‘hop’ from digital to mainstream print/TV very easy. That’s of course a plus - you get coverage in mainstream for free, but it also means that any negative message spreads fast. (Remember, dog bites man is never as newsworthy has man bites dog)
3. You’re already drowning in data
As they say in computer programming, Garbage In Garbage Out (you never know when my engineering degree will remind me - and you - of its existence). Many companies enter social media with the laudable idea of listening to their customers. The customers respond enthusiastically, but the company doesn’t have a back-end system in place to make sense of it. Also, since the company hasn’t really thought through the goals of the digital presence, it does not have any research objectives or hypotheses to test. Instead, it just adds to the pile of already available unsorted, unfiled data on what customers want. Either manually or with a CRM on analytics system you will have to process this into meaningful insights. And depending on the scale of your organization you could quite possibly have gained that same insight by running a focus group discussion, speaking directly with 50 customers, or buying the latest quantitative study.
Oh, and because you asked for their views and didn’t do anything about it, your previously enthusiastic customers are now turning on you.
4. Your CEO thinks “social wocial” is over-rated
Knowing that he is wrong does not make the problem go away. Yes, yes, your CEO may not be your target audience or chosen demographic. But social requires you to engage with customers, interact with them and present a friendly face to them. Unless this is supported by the organization at the top-most level, you will not receive the required support in personnel, processes, and tools. Social has to be understood and treated as another valuable channel for getting in touch with stakeholders and baked into the overall communication strategy. Other channels like TV, radio, web, outdoor, magazines have been around for years, but their adoption has been influenced by the CEOs personal conviction too. (Trust me, everyone in marketing has released an ad somewhere because the CEO says “Oh, but I always read/see that”)
5. You are choked for bandwidth
Would you set up a 24x7 tele-helpline without hiring people to staff it first? Same logic should apply to social media too. It’s always on, and people’s expectations of response times are very exacting - less than an hour in most cases. Unless you have the staffing arrangement - and the required training, FAQ, scripts etc - in place, you are likely to burn your fingers.
This is a direct line of conversation with your customers - you can’t just outsource it and hope for the best. The outsourcing can only take care of outbound communication and managing routine requests. You and other senior members of your organization will have to occasionally chip in and respond/listen to customers. Are you ready for that?
I have taken an extreme view on each of these issues to make my point, but that’s the general direction.
None of these is a permanent situation - you will eventually have to overcome it.
It’s just a question of time. The digital age is definitely the future, it just hasn’t reached everyone yet.