Making the Leap: Why Companies Struggle with Social Media

How many people at your company are trained, equipped and empowered to talk to customers?  If your organization is large, chances are the percentage of customer-facing people is smaller.  How many customers does your company have?  How about potential customers?  No doubt the numbers stack up in a heavy ratio against people inside the company that are trained to engage them.  Traditional advertising and marketing provides a cushion, putting out messaging to the large customer population to influence their purchase behavior.  It didn’t require making a leap to engage customers in conversation or to deeply understand how they make a purchase decision.  The approach was always one-sided, and the feedback loop could be carefully and slowly measured with focus groups and research.  Social media provides opportunities for two-way and multi-way conversation, which requires discipline, research, scale and transparency.  Simply put, one way is easier, two-way (and multi-way) is hard.

An Analogy

When I was a freshman in college, a couple friends and I drove to a local quarry that had been shut down.  The quarry was flooded and it provided a great location for cliff-diving.  Was it safe? Probably not, but it was fun.  Deciding to take that last step to a more than fifty foot drop was a daunting task, but the sense of personal accomplishment and fun was rewarding afterwards.  The general sense was, “that wasn’t so bad” and “exhilarating” at the same time.

Three Industry Examples

Making the leap to engage customers through leveraging social media tools can be a similar experience to leaping off that cliff.  (Well, the decision to leap anyway – the benefits can be much more reqarding.)  I’ve worked with clients in different industries, and they all viewed that leap in different ways.  The retailer already tried the leap – they started with the prototypical Facebook page, a couple of Twitter accounts, some user generated content contests.  But they didn’t start with understanding customer preferences, needs, attitudes and behaviors, and they also didn’t use any social media monitoring.  To me that’s like making the leap without knowing how high the cliff is or how deep the water is.  The good news: no one got hurt so far and now they can be more strategic in their approach.

The financial services and banking client is conservative and hugely risk averse.  Regulatory concerns abound.  A strategy was developed and plans were made, but the company wasn’t aligned as an organization on when and how to jump in.  They’ve spent several months examining, evaluating, listening, watching competitors but not yet making that leap to converse and engage.  They have a great brand promise around community and customer service, and when they do make the leap they will be unbelievably prepared.  What’s holding them back? Scale, empowerment, fear of the unknown and fear of failure.  When they do start it will be methodical, and they will see the benefits, but their journey to the leap needs to be vetted as a company first.

The third is a consumer goods company.  They have an “old school” brand that has been around for ages, and have deep roots in the traditional marketing days where the advertising industry boomed.  Their leap decision is more about changing their ways, bringing the consumer to be the focus rather than just the product, and moving away from “broadcasting” on more channels to “engaging.”  Making the leap was inevitable, but they needed to change their mindset in order to understand customers better, why they make a brand purchase decision and how they can participate in conversation without outright selling.

Let’s Hear From You

Every company is different – the culture, the brand promise, the beliefs, the success, the level of focus on consumer insights, and the ability to apply tools and technologies that are new to mutually benefit company and client.  Why do you think companies struggle with social media?  For companies that are succeeding, what do you think got them there – what it brand affinity they could tap into or did they have to work harder to create engagement?

Photo credit: clickflashphotos via Flickr

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On Beyond Snake Oil

Say all you want about people who make a living off of consulting in social media – like any industry where there is buzz, there will be snake oil salesmen who are trying to take advantage of the trend.  A Google search on “social media snake oil” returns over 187,000 results.  There are great posts about how you should beware the snake oil salesman right along side excellent posts defending the folks who are legitimate and hard working on behalf of their clients in the business.  While there will never be a shortage of folks trying to take advantage, it’s time that companies treat finding a partner to help in social media like they would with any other partnership.

Thanks to for publishing my first article submission there this week, called 7 Tips for Choosing a Social Media Provider.  As the services industry changes in this space, evolving models of co-opetition will come and go and analysts will attempt to capture the changes going on in social media services.  What’s clear to me though, is that companies need to evaluate the following when making a decision on how and where to get help to infuse social media into their marketing or other business tactics:

  1. Industry experience of the provider
  2. Your company’s current agency ecosystem
  3. Internal resource support and sponsorship
  4. Social media integration
  5. Social media maturity of the company
  6. Business results achieved by the provider
  7. Provider’s partnership ecosystem

These factors provide a much broader view on how companies need to evolve their thinking to selecting a business partner in this space.  What did I miss?  For more thoughts on what each one means, please see the post on iMedia and let me know what you think here in the comments.

Photo credit: caseymfox via Flickr, with apologies to Dr. Seuss

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