Social Media – Join the Conversation

brand controlSocial media is the buzz these days and companies time and time again are told they have take part.  The fear that the control will shift from the company to the consumer has created chaos of sorts where some companies are jumping in without really knowing why or how. Think of face to face networking. Someone new starts to come around and you see them everywhere talking to everyone they possibly can and then poof they are gone. Why? They did not get what they expected and abandoned ship.  Same goes for social media where the expectations and immediate gratification is high but the feedback and acceptance is low so they disappear.

In a recent post, I spoke about the consumer controlling the brand. Your brand is your message and there is no way the consumer can control that.  They can influence sales and credibility with positive or negative experiences  but not control. I came across a fantastic article by Amber Naslund who really breaks down the control in her article Social Media and the Reality of Control.

…There are a few different things we need to talk about in context of the idea of control.

1. How You Present Yourself

You’ve always held the keys to how you put your business out into the world, or how you educate your employees about your purpose and values. Everything from your logo to your collateral to how your customer service department behaves is under the umbrella of your presentation as a company. You get to decide how you do this part. You make the rules about what you put out there in terms of sanctioned image, content, or message. That’s always been true, and that hasn’t changed. You have every bit the control over the presentation of your company as you always have.

2. How You Are Perceived and How People React
This is the bit where we’re talking about businesses never really having control. You can’t dictate how people think, period. You couldn’t do it before the world of social technologies, and you can’t do it now. You can present yourself and hope to influence that perception, but you cannot control it.

The difference is that today, with the prevalence and ubiquity of the internet, there are lots of places for people to share those perceptions with their friends and the world at large (including your customers, prospects, employees, and people not connected to you at all). So you haven’t lost any control. People are still reacting to your business the way they always have. Now, they’ve got more tools with which to share those viewpoints, and they’re more visible and sharable.

Worried that the danger is in your own house? That employees are going to misrepresent you if you give them tools to do so? Hint: they already have them. They’re called the phone on their desk, and the email account with your domain on it, and their own voice and personal lives. You trust them as representatives of your business in every other communication channel. If you don’t trust them here, you have a hiring problem or an education problem, but not a control problem. The tools are not the issue.

3. What You Do With What You Learn

Ultimately, you decide how you’re going to absorb and assimilate #2 into #1. As a business, if you’re listening and paying attention to how people are articulating those perceptions, you still have the choice as to what you’re going to do with that information. You can change everything. You can change nothing at all.

The reason social media advocates get up in your grill is because they’re afraid that #2 is happening, but that it’s not informing #1, and that the two may even be working at cross purposes. They (we) also believe that there’s probably some insights that your customers and community can give to you that might actually help make your business better, whether it’s reinforcement of what you’re doing well, criticism intended to point out potential weaknesses, or a way of looking at your business or describing your value in a way you may never have thought of.

The truth is that, with the rare trollish exception, people aren’t expressing their opinions about your company because they don’t care. They’re not trying to wrest your brand from you and create some brand alter-ego doppleganger thing, and they’re not using YouTube or Facebook or their blog to try and overthrow you as the masters of your brand domain. In fact, most people don’t want that kind of responsibility.

They’re trying to tell you what matters to them and what would make your business more useful and helpful to them (read: what makes them spend money on you), in whatever medium they think you’ll notice. They’re not trying to control your brand. They’re trying to get your attention.

You have all the control you want over #3. Using social media strategies and tools can help you with #2, if you’reengaging with the intent to hear and the intent to consider what those folks are telling you. That builds trust. It lets people know you’re paying attention and that you value their voice. It’s not a promise of action, but it’s a demonstration of awareness.

But control? You have as much as you always did. Now, you’ve got more accountability and expectations surrounding your business because of social media. People are watching to see how you respond to both. Ultimately, what you do with any of it is completely up to you.

See the difference? What do you think?

“More accountability and expectations surrounding your business because of social media” says it all (wish I thought of that). The reality is that a company has a choice whether to take part in social media or not however the conversation is always happening about your company – whether you are there or not.  That is the dynamic that social media brings.  Yes, prior to social media people shared positive and negative experiences with friends and family but how they are sharing with a community.  A community that listens and is willing to share.  This is where the influence comes in – the consumer may control the bottom line of sales but never the brand.

Takeaway – it is a choice to engage in social media.  Having an opportunity to talk directly to your customers and in real time and see what they are saying about you should matter, right?

Agree or disagree?  Share your thoughts and open up the conversation.

photo credit: faramarz