Why some companies shouldn’t bother with social media

We’ve all heard that social media is a must or you’re going to get left behind.  Not my words.

You know what?  This isn’t new.  I’ve heard this ‘move with the times or you’ll die’ message on the web a number of times now.  In the late 1990s, a similar bunch of consultants were out there on their soapboxes, spruiking the message that if companies didn’t embrace the web, they’d be left behind.  In the early 2000s, another bunch of gurus were spruiking that if you didn’t embrace B2B eCommerce, you’d miss out on an estimated $2 trillion in business. In the mid-2000s if you weren’t a business embracing your new MySpace profile then you were a failure. And even a few years ago, the message was if you didn’t take on a content management system, your online presence would simply curl up and die.

Notice a pattern here?  Every new technical ‘toy’ on the web comes with a very, very heavy sales pitch.  And not the ‘hey, this vacuum cleaner will improve your life kind of sales pitch.  We’re talking the ‘pestilence and plagues if you don’t jump on board’ kind.  And what I’ve noticed is that more businesses are more wary about new eChallenges because of it.

So some clients have been asking me about the why of social media, what I think of it and how they should catch the wave.

And this is what I tell them.

Firstly, Web 2.0 is a trend in web technology driving companies towards providing web sites that are primarily about users sharing information.  So your Web 2.0 web site will use things like blogs, wikis, social networking and folksonomies.  In a nutshell, it’s content driven by your web site visitors, your customers and your audiences.  Ironically, I’ve been telling clients to do that for years, it’s just now it’s getting press because it has a sexy title.  😉

So what do these companies need to know about it?  I tell them two things.

One, it’s a very powerful tool which can help build communities around your product or brand.  If you can use it well, it will really boost the online component of your business.

Two, they’re probably not prepared for it and they should probably leave Web 2.0 alone until they’ve got a better handle on Web 1.0.  * cue gasps of shock from the techies reading *

Why?  Surely new technology should be embraced by companies.

My view is … not always.

Recently Nielsen Online announced that the majority of Twitter users give up after just ONE MONTH.

Web 2.0 is not necessarily groundbreaking.  What it does is offer content on your web site that is far more dynamic and, in most cases, driven by your consumers.  In fact, the father of the web (Sir Tim Berners-Lee, not Dan Quayle or Al Gore) has questioned whether the term Web 2.0 actually means anything meaningful, seeing as many of the technology components have been around since the early days of the web.

From a content point of view, Web 2.0 will hopefully drive people towards thinking about how they can be focussing on their customers.

But in my humble professional opinion, I would like to see companies get Web 1.0 right before embarking on Web 2.0.  When I mention that to a few companies, particularly those whose marketing managers have asked for my opinion, they’ve been surprised, because I’m not singing from the same hymn sheet as other web professionals.  And my response is still the same … ‘I think Web 2.0 is great.  I like the ideology.  I like the focus and change in perspective it brings.  I like the results some companies get’.

But at the end of the day, if your company is struggling to keep your current web site up-to-date, relevant and interesting, you don’t have the skills, perspective or processes to do Web 2.0 properly.  And it’s my fear that some companies will spend up big on technology only to have their management processes let it down.

My thinking is this: it takes greater control over the web publishing process to hand over control to others who are outside your organisation.  So if you don’t have the control to do manage your own web site, there’s no way you’ll have the control over the process if other people are contributing content in a big way to it.

From a technical point of view, it’s quite easy.  But from a content or communication point of view, it requires a lot of oversight.  So if you can’t handle the basic approval process – or if it’s too long – you might find Web 2.0 difficult.

But if you’d like someone to chat to your organisation about how they can prepare for Web 2.0 (and hopefully save some time, money and tears), let me know.

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One thought on “Why some companies shouldn’t bother with social media

  1. I have the greatest of respect for Sir Tim and his insight. At present, I believe he is working on bringing open government to the UK. If he is frustrated with marketers, I can only imagine how he’ll cope with politicians and administrators.

    Great article David. Web 2.0 is just a codeword for marketers trying to monetise social networking technologies at the expense of what is truly important to the organisation – an honest relationship with their audience.

    The popularity of technologies will always plateau. Hitching your organisation to a particular technology (or a specific brand like Facebook or Twitter) runs the risk of aligning your fortunes with that brand.

    At the heart of the success of 2.0 is communication, not technology. To paraphrase Sir Tim: unless technology respects human needs, it is worthless.

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