Steve Outing wrote a very good article at Editor and Publisher on Friday about the need for cultural change inside the newpapers around the US (found via the wonderful CyberJournalist.net). That article got me thinking that people in many different industries probably hear many of the same objections to new, social media and online tools. ("It takes too much time, conversations online are insipid" etc.)
I decided to make a list of the Top 10 Objections to New Online Tools and What You Can Say in Response. I surveyed my nearly 1300 friends on Twitter and got all kinds of thoughtful replies.
Below is that list; I hope you'll find it useful and leave comments helping to extend the conversation further. In my mind I'm thinking of everything from RSS and wikis to Twitter, Facebook and blogging. Online tools that leverage social connections.
Last month we wrote about an initiative called The Working Group where people trying to bring about innovation in big companies. Many readers probably know about Forrester analyst Jeremiah Owyang's fantastic blog, where he explains social media in a business context, often in a format you can take directly to the boss. There are lots of different resources available online to help the intrepid early adopter and I hope this list will be one of them.
Ultimately, I'm not yet convinced myself that persuading anyone is the way to go. If you can make time on the side to use new tools and you can perform - perhaps the benefits can best speak for themselves. If that's not the case inside of a company, I'm sure it is between two companies with different attitudes towards adoption of new social technologies.
ROI is the elephant in the middle of the room, and it's addressed a bit in item number ten below. It's a topic I need more people to chime in on; I live and breathe this stuff and can articulate the benefits of it to a great degree, but it just speaks for itself to me too. So if you're an ROI-head, pipe up. Links, traffic, mindshare, connections between people and early access to actionable information are the things I usually cite without quantifying.
Let's get into the list though, and please do feel free to add your own thoughts as well.
A List of Objections, Replies and Concessions Regarding Social Media and Tools
1. I suffer from information overload already.
Try just skimming messages in some fora - you may need to look closely at every email you get but you don't have to look at every Facebook friend's update.
The right tools for you will feel helpful in time, not like a burden. Experiment for awhile with new tools and stick with the ones that deliver you the most high-quality information, whether those tools are high-quantity or not. (Thanks to Aaron Hockley and Ruby Sinreich for these thoughts.)
Times change and so do information paradigms. Get used to it. The amount of information you had access to 3 years ago was infinitely more than people at any other point in history and we're in the middle of another huge leap right now.
Concession: If you think consuming all this new information is a challenge, wait until you try to find the time to make sense of it! (Thanks to Nancy White for that thought.)
2. So much of what's discussed online is meaningless. These forms of communication are shallow and make us dumber. We have real work to do!
Much of it is not meaningless, but if you feel overwhelmed with meaninglessness - try subscribing to a search for keywords in a particular service and using that as your starting point for engagement.
Having a presence and starting a conversation is rarely a bad thing - bring quality conversation to a space and you'll find others ready to engage. (Thanks to Banana Lee Fishbones, obviously a fan of open, non-anonymous public communication :) for this articulation.)
Personal information can be very useful in understanding the context of more explicitly useful information.
If learning how the market feels about your organization, engaging with your customers and driving traffic to your web work - all very realistic goals for social media engagement - aren't work, then I don't know what is. Even in the short term, strategic engagement with online social media will have a clear work pay-off.
Concession: The signal to noise ratio will be easier to maximize if you can find an experienced guide to learn from. Just jumping into social media and new tools on your own will not neccesarily lead to a meaningful experience. It could, but it will take longer.
3. I don't have the time to contribute and moderate, it looks like it takes a lot of time and energy.
If you aren't going to eat that lunch of yours, I'd be happy to, thanks.
With practice, familiarity and technology fine-tuned with a little experience you'll find the time required will decrease.
You might consider this time spent on marketing or communication with existing customer base - perhaps there's something else in that department that isn't working well and could be replaced with online work.
Doing anything well does take time and energy. You've obviously been thinking about this stuff a lot, it is important - and it's going to take time and energy.
4. Our customers don't use this stuff, the learning curve limits its usefulness to geeks.
You might be surprised to learn how many of your customers do already use these new tools. Even more will do so in the future.
The best designed tools are designed like good games - you can get small rewards right away and then learn more advanced skills to win bigger rewards. Among online services that are intended for general audiences, only poorly designed ones are too geeky.
Many of these tools provide value vastly disproportionate to the literal number of people they reach. These are like high-value focus groups where you'll gather information and preparation to engage with the rest of the world.
Try asking someone near you to give you an in-person demonstration of one of these tools. You'll find it much easier to learn once you've seen the right paths taken to show what it can do.
5. Communicators [bloggers, tweeters] are so fickle, better to stay unengaged than risk random brand damage. We don't want hostile comments left about us on any forum we've legitimized.
If you need to, you can require that any comments left on your own site be approved before they appear. This slows down the conversation but if it makes conversation possible for you then do it.
There are far fewer people who will take the time to say hostile things, even on the internet, than you might imagine.
Engage - you'll be appreciated more for it. People are going to say what they are going to say - you can either let any criticism go unanswered or you can be the bigger person/brand for responding well.
Conversations are going to happen online, better to be engaged than to have it happening behind your back. (As articulated by Rick Turoczy.)
It's ok, no one believes that anyone is perfect anymore. Swing for the fences sometimes - you might strike out, but sometimes you'll hit a home run.
Even if you're not responding publicly, you should watch closely so you know what people are saying. Maybe you don't have a blog, but subscribe to a blogsearch feed or alert for your company's name. Maybe none of your people are on Twitter - you can subscribe to a feed for a search via Terraminds.
Some of the critical things that get said about you online might not warrant a response. Just decide which ones do and file the rest away somewhere.
Communicating in this different context is very new and challenging for traditionally trained business people. Good luck.
6. Traditional media and audiences are still bigger, we'll do new stuff when they do.
They already are, from blogging to online video to social networks to mobile to microblogging - big, established brands are already doing all of it. They may be experimenting but they will bringing all their market dominance into the most useful social media sectors as soon as it suits them. Will that be too late for you? It might be.
Traditional media audiences are also more passive - online audiences can engage with, rebroadcast and otherwise amplify your communication efforts.
That's true and fair, if you think your business can thrive while taking that attitude towards a period of intense social and economic change then you just rock on with your bad self. I'll be taking my love of innovation to the employer down the street.
7. Upper management won't support it/dedicate resources for it.
A lot of technology adoption has for some time had to happen despite this reality. People adopt new tools on their own at work, without permission. They discover powerful ways to solve their problems and then they share them horizontally.
Compared to other expenses, meaningful engagement with new online technology does not have huge costs.
Meaningful engagement with new technology does require some expenditure of time, energy and money. If you're not willing to do this then you'll be unlikely to see big benefits.
8. These startups can't offer meaningful security, they may not even be around in a year - I'll wait until Google or our enterprise software vendor starts offering this kind of functionality.
The skills you build and the connections you make will remain with you, though. This is a paradigm shift underway more than it is about any particular tool.
Chose your tools carefully - expect data export as an option so you can back up or switch services whenever you need to. This isn't widespread yet but the best tools allow it.
You do need to be careful, but if you do so intelligently then the benefits can really outweight the risks. It is very possible that any one of these services might shutter in a year or two, but you'll get a lot out of them in the meantime and hopefully won't lose access to your data if that happens.
9. There are so many tools that are similar, I can't tell where to invest my time so I don't use any of it at all.
A little experimentation goes a long way.
Try asking people in your field who have some experience what tools they are using.
Try searching for keywords related to your work in various sites. You'll find out that way which sites are best suited for you.
It's true, it can be very confusing and very few people are able to keep up with all the new services that are launching. Don't worry about it, just do your best.
10. That stuff's fine for sexy brands, but we sell [insert boring B2B brand] and are known for stability more than chasing the flavor-of-the-month. We're doing just fine with the tools we've got, thanks.
Some of these things, RSS and wikis for example, aren't passing social fads - they are emerging best practices and the state of the art.
ROI is very hard to measure, but try allocating a little energy over time to experiment and see what kind of results you get. From connections between people and projects, to search-friendly inbound links, to early access to important information - the benefits of engaging in new social media go on and on.
There are no conclusions, this is just a conversation. Please feel free to add your thoughts in comments and check out the comments to read what others suggest as talking points when faced with these objections.