Home When NOT to Use Social Media

When NOT to Use Social Media

These days, everyone is talking about social media and discussing what services and tools to use, how to use them, why you should use them, etc. In fact, if you listened to all the advice out there, you would probably think that no matter who you are, whether an individual wanting to build a personal brand, or a large multinational corporation intent on communicating with customers, you should be using social media. But is social media for everyone? Are there times when you shouldn’t be using it at all?

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we’ll re-publish some of our best posts of 2009. As we look back at the year – and ahead to what next year holds – we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It’s not just a best-of list, it’s also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2010. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!

According to B&B, a magazine for marketing strategists, there are definitely some scenarios when social media should be avoided. In a recent article, they listed what these were:

  1. You’re in a high-ticket business:  The article recommends that businesses with only a few customers who each spend tens of millions of dollars with the company each year are better off not using social media. Instead, face-to-face interactions and phone calls will still work better.
  2. You fight with your employees: In some businesses, management and employees are constantly at odds. (An example was given of a unionized workforce where management-labor strife was common). This is also not the type of company that should encourage employees to communicate directly with customers via social media.
  3. Management skepticism: If management doesn’t believe in social media, then employees who have been told for years that public communication needs to be filtered will be hesitant to try out a new medium which requires them to speak openly. In this scenario, management needs to encourage and reward participation to make social media work. If they don’t, it will fail.
  4. Strategic Vacuum: Don’t do social media just to do social media. If a company doesn’t know what they’re trying to accomplish, then there will be nothing to measure and no way to determine success. Just as with any other initiative a company takes on, there needs to be an objective…and that objective shouldn’t be to distribute a press release.
  5. Privacy and regulatory concerns: If you work for a company where what you say in public could send you to jail, proceed with caution. You’ll probably even need lawyers involved (sigh).

But Don’t Be Afraid to Try!

All that being said, outside of a handful of scenarios, there is still plenty of room for growth when it comes to social media. For example, the results of a recent survey put out by marketing intelligence specialist WebTrends found that only 2% of businesses are using Twitter as a marketing tool. Only 2% – can you believe that?

Perhaps the problem is that businesses are hesitant to dip their toes into the water because they’re unsure of how to proceed. Social media community members, such as those on Twitter, can be very critical of the companies they think are “doing it wrong.” The backlash can be brutal…and not necessarily good for your brand, either. In other words, businesses thinking of getting involved with this platform should definitely think before they leap.

As it turns out, that was the exact advice Sarah Milstein gave at last week’s Web 2.0 Expo out in San Francisco. At her session, “Effective Twitter,” she recommended that companies consider the following questions before diving in:

  • What will be different in 3, 6, 12 months as a result of our Twitter account?
  • Who are we hoping to connect with?
  • What kind of information is interesting to them?
  • What might go wrong? What expectations might people have of us?

(Her session also had a number of other good resources – you may want to check out the PDF summary here.)

During Milstein’s presentation, audience members were furiously scribbling down her every word as if this was the first time they had ever heard this information! Of course, it probably was. Although the right and wrong ways to use Twitter and the tools that can help you use it better may be old hat to some of us who live and breathe this stuff, but it’s clear that to many people out there, this information is incredibly new…and intimidating.

This is unchartered territory for a lot of companies and many of them are just now beginning to think about their strategies and levels of involvement. You could literally see this trend in action at the Expo. There, some of the top sessions, the ones so jam-packed that it was standing room only, were specifically about social media and marketing. Twitter, Facebook, community building, etc…people just couldn’t get enough.

This makes us wonder if 2009 be the year that social media really goes mainstream? Or, will the experimentations continue? We think it’s possible that it will be both. Companies will try new things using social media. Some will succeed and some will fail, but in the end it will be these experimentations, led by the big brands, that will help push social media further out into the limelight than it is now.

Of course, having more Hollywood celebs sign up for Twitter couldn’t hurt either.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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