Social media has a reputation as being a frivolous distraction for our free time. At many companies its use is banned outright; at best, it may be considered innocuous. The truth, of course, is that the vast web of virtual connections created by social media is a powerful business tool.
In companies, as in any group of people, there are those who recognize the potential of social media and those who scorn it. How can social media advocates convince their skeptical colleagues of its potential?
There are many ways to tackle this problem. Common advice is: Consider the perspective of your audience; speak their same language; provide relevant examples of successful use of social media; reference or hire third party experts; show that your customers are already on social media; and show that your competition is light-years ahead of you. All of this is sound advice, but the way you craft your pitch will have to be tailored to your specific situation.
But in any business one type of language always rules: numbers.
By August of this year, Facebook is expected to top the one billion active users mark; that’s about 14% of the world’s population. Perhaps only slightly more than half of these are “daily active users“; still 7% of the world. In second place is Twitter, which is projected to have about 250 million active users by the end of this year. New entry Google+ recently surpassed the 100 million active users mark, and the professional oriented platform LinkedIn now has 161 million users. With this many people in the world involved in some type of social media, it is hard for your company to come up with a good reason to stay out of the conversation.
Social media does require time and energy, but has none of the fixed costs which come along with traditional advertising. Comparisons with traditional means of publicity are effective in making the push for social media.
Your company would surely be pleased if an article mentioning them in a positive light were to run in the Wall Street Journal. So how would they feel if that article were to be blogged and cited in 1,000 Tweets, or if the company’s Facebook page were to receive 10,000 likes? Instead of waiting around for journalists to come a-knocking your company can be proactive and get its news out there.
However the sword cuts both ways- social media gives the power to publish to anyone and everyone, and a common fear is that using these platforms opens companies up to negative comments and negative press.
Here it is important to impart the lesson that while “no news is good news”, “even bad press is better than no press at all”- and this does not only apply for celebrities. Negative press may come in many shapes and forms, but it very often is the expression of real frustration with some product or service. Negative comments are therefore an opportunity for your company to respond to concerns, to adjust products and services, and ultimately to regain business that otherwise would have simply been lost, silently.
Furthermore the choice not to professionally participate in social media in no way guarantees immunity from negative internet press.
On the other hand, a strong presence on several social media platforms and expertise in their peculiarities are the necessary tools to combat against unwanted news and shape the desired image for the company. The internet is the dominant means of communication in our world and will only become more so; social media is the tool which allows companies and individuals to be not passive victims but rather active participants in the great global discourse.
In conclusion, it is wise to remember that many great inventions which have now become a fixture of modern life- such as the bicycle, the airplane, the light bulb, television and the automobile- were either born out of frivolity or were considered to be frivolous at their birth.
If social media platforms could think perhaps they, like Tom Stoppard, author of Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, would wonder “Is my seriousness compromised by my frivolity? . . . Or my frivolity redeemed by my seriousness?” It is up to serious companies to realize that the frivolity of social media is really just a front.
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