Think Social, Act Social
A plea for a more easy-going approach to Social Media
We are already in the middle of the Social Media "hype." A growing number of companies regard themselves as driven by the very topic and keep on looking for adequate answers how to adapt to this development: There is not one single other topic that has provoked as many requests for consulting over the last years as Social Media currently does. Some companies, in contrast, still appear very cautious and doubt that the hype will last—it is nothing more than an (exaggerated) positive impulse pushed forward by service providers. This definitely does not come as a surprise, as indeed service providers act as the main drivers today—they contribute more or less auxiliary offers ranging from Social Media Monitoring and the creation of campaigns to the programming of a variety of applications.
If we move the focus away from the hype/market agitation and simply concentrate on Social Media facts, we will be able to detect some remarkable developments in the very core. At the same time, it will become evident that the handling of the topic, both from the service providers' and companies' positions, has to be questioned.
It is a fact that: Social Media is a hands-on medium— not only limited to customers.
But: Given that both customers and employees are already using it, the issue is whether it is at all a company's choice to deal with Social Media? Is it still possible to simply ignore or postpone addressing this topic?
It is a fact that: There are already various best practice examples for Social Media.
But: Is it really wise to limit the focus to already wellknown brands and to their Social Media means that primarily serve specific communication purposes? How will this be any help to the majority of companies that are already experiencing difficulties in other channels and setting different priorities with regard to their marketing strategies?
It is a fact that: Social Media can be used for a variety of purposes other than "just" communication.
But: Why are most of the main drivers of the topic still communication service providers/departments? What about other company divisions such as HR (just think of the employees using Social Media) or the support and service division (that always has to interact with customers)? Or even the legal department that is also accountable for positive employee activity via Social Media?
It is a fact that: In the near future, Social Media will completely alter the entire interaction between companies and their stakeholders.
But: Why is the Social Media discussion mainly centered on platforms or "what measures to take now" (e.g., "What can we do on Facebook? How can we profitably use Twitter?")? Successful companies normally choose a strategic approach to such issues—why do they only scratch the surface when it comes to Social Media?
It is a fact that: Social Media offers a lot of potential for companies in the medium term—not only through a more effective and efficient configuration of stakeholder relationships.
But: Why do investments in the Social Media landscape still cling to a level that will not allow exhausting its full potential? And if companies are eager to remain on this initially low level of engagement, why don’t they try to systematically gain new experiences instead of following the "Trial and Error" track?
This confrontation of facts on the one hand and (partly disputable) behavior of market participants on the other hand makes it clear that the entire discussion is centered on "how" to deal with Social Media rather than "whether" to deal with it at all. A systematic and strategic handling of the topic is essential to fully embrace its significance and potential as well as to benefit from the chances resulting for companies. Only this way, a compromise can be found between the extremes of either acting too high-spirited or remaining in a stand-by position.
From our point of view the following implications for companies can be derived:
1. Every company must deal with Social Media and specify a clear attitude towards it—no matter if eventually "only" existent Social Media activities are continued, alternative approaches are tested systematically, or a fundamental transformation of the company is initiated.
2. The debate about Social Media must take place in a context specific to the situation and the company—in order to select and implement the best possible platforms and measures based on the predefined attitude towards Social Media.
3. Social Media must be dealt with across different departments/divisions—even if this might lead to a consciously limited usage of the full potential available in the very beginning.
4. Social Media requires a strategic approach—in order to precociously put things on the right track and to use resources efficiently and effectively with regard to the almost indefinite range of platforms and possibilities.
5. Substantial strategic investments in Social Media are necessary to realize the underlying potential. The adequate determination of the extent of the company-specific potential in each case as well as the investment requirements and grading is only possible if the above listed points are taken into account.
Companies should therefore liberate themselves from the current "hype" and primarily do their "homework" on Social Media that is composed of the points above. In this context the service providers certainly do not have to worry about their share: As soon as a company-internal course is set, new broad and sustainable business opportunities will result. However, the current partly exaggerated hysteria is counterproductive, especially when companies are forced to Social Media action-taking.
Actually, all parties involved could be a bit more relaxed when dealing with the topic of Social Media—as long as steps are taken in the right order: "Think social, (then) act social."
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