Why Some Companies are Wary of Investing in Strategic Social Media Engagement

Today, as part of my current course with the Social Media Academy, I’ve been working an exercise to develop a concept and framework for a consultancy business in the field of social media. In line with how the assignment was set, the first thing I did was to endeavor to define the problem my business would seek to address.

I framed that in terms of the area I would like to do more work in, mainly medium sized professional services companies.

danger sign

After reading my screed through a couple of times I felt it was a fair representation of how I currently see the field and why some, maybe many companies in that sector might be reluctant or even resistant to investing in developing and implementing social media – or social business – strategies.

Then I wondered how others might judge what I’ve written. Which is why I’ve decided to stick my neck out and invite comment and critique here on the blog.

What I’ve written is frankly based not on detailed research so much as my sense of the current state of play. So it’s quite possible that my sweeping generalizations do not measure up to current business realities. On the other hand, my observations here are not completely subjective: I read what others write and I listen to what business owners and executives say.

I recognize too that what I’ve written is not what you would call revolutionary. I’m just endeavoring to set down a summary of how I see the situation.

So here goes.

The problem

Many business owners understand, at least at a basic level, that the all-pervasive adoption of social media has changed the business landscape dramatically and irrevocably. They see that their own company is not up to speed and they do not want to be left behind. Some even say they want to be at the leading edge of change. But they or their business partners, or their legal or other advisers, counsel caution and a wait-and-see attitude, often citing all the things that can go wrong via the social networks.

They want to act, but are afraid of getting it wrong:

  • they don’t know what is involved – cost, time, people, reputation
  • they don’t believe you can get an ROI calculation
  • they don’t know if their organization and/or their people are ready
  • they don’t know who to trust to show them

Companies in professional services and in heavily regulated industries, such as financial services, are especially wary. For most such companies, all or nearly all of the members of the board of directors and the C-suite executives will have spent their working professional lives in a culture and mindset of command and control, with hierarchical structures and chains of command. To them the social web can, understandably,  look very much a place of anarchy, with social media engagement a recipe for serious, possibly terminal reputational damage and trashing of the brand.

If they decide that they want to “do something” about social media, their training and orientation to risk management through a command and control structure may make them susceptible to the advertising agency or other purveyor of social media services or “solutions” who offers to provide them with some semblance of social business. A social media tasting. Typically this can be along the lines of “why don’t we just set you up with a Facebook page and see how that goes?”.

Such a piecemeal approach is not likely to be based on anything like a comprehensive strategic assessment, much less a strategic plan of social media implementation: so the chances of success are slim at best. And because there is no strategic framework for identifying what “success” might look like, the company is unable to make an informed judgment later about the value of that particular experiment, or of the potential benefit of other social business initiatives that may be proposed.

Properly advised about precedents and procedures for risk management, even the most conservative of companies may be willing to invest some of their people’s time, some reputational and social capital and some money into socializing their business. But if the only ideas that are put to them are essentially tactical, not strategic, and do not address the financial controller’s concerns and those of other C-suite executives, the decision may be made, however reluctantly, to do nothing.

The fundamental problem then is that they have not had the benefit of being shown how they can move along the path of a holistic socializing of the business, sensibly, strategically and measurably.

Des Walsh

Business coach and digital entrepreneur. With coach training from Coachville.com and its Graduate School of Coaching, and a founding member of the International Association of Coaching, Des has been coaching business owners and entrepreneurs for the past 20 years. Over the same period he has also been actively engaged in promoting the business opportunities of the digital economy. He is a certified Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP) coach, and a certified specialist in social media strategy and affiliate marketing.

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  1. I’ve been doing “regular” SEO for clients for over 10 years now. Up until a year or so ago, businesses (particularly the small and medium sized businesses that I work with) were pretty clueless about the whole social media trend. Many were putting up Facebook Fan pages and starting Twitter accounts, but that was it. No cohesive strategy. Now, with social media becoming a very viable sales and marketing tool for every business, I’ve had to change my strategies, plus become competent enough to implement those strategies for my clients. Your points…

    “they don’t know what is involved – cost, time, people, reputation
    they don’t believe you can get an ROI calculation
    they don’t know if their organization and/or their people are ready
    they don’t know who to trust to show them”

    summarize very well where 90% of businesses are at right now. Thanks for writing on this very important topic.

  2. I had to snicker when I read “why don’t we just set you up with a Facebook page and see how that goes?”. I’ve been there and done that. We can pretty much guess how that will go – it won’t. Facebook and Twitter have to be part of an integral campaign that not only gets people to your page (or to receive your tweets), you have to give people a good reason to do so. People aren’t going to read your FB page for fun – there has to be a WIIFM (what’s in it for me).

  3. :Engagement” is the fundamental principle at the heart of ‘social’ media and authenticity is a key driver in this. Saying a quick ‘morning’ or replying to your fans on Twitter etc. may not be ‘strategic’ in the narrow sense, but it drives engagement and interaction – which is infinitely more important than sticking to rigid ‘brand messages’.

    1. Definitely, and far more likely to lead to or improve engagement than the one way broadcasting of “wisdom” some people think social media is for.

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