UPDATE 9/3/2009: Good related post: “7 Things To Think About Before Jumping In”
Jeff Bullas recently wrote a smart post: “28 Reasons Why The CEO is Afraid Of Social Media”.
I might have titled it “A Few Questionable Reasons Why The CEO is Afraid of Social Media, and A Bunch Of Really Reasonable Ones.”
Being afraid to turn on the lights in case there are monsters under the bed is pretty silly. But thinking twice before you guzzle Jonestown’s favorite powdered beverage — “gee, when did they start making a cyanide flavor?” — is actually a pretty good idea.
Some CEOs are afraid of social media. Where can you afford to dive in, and where should you be cautious? Every business/brand has their own criteria, but here’s my take.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: It is detrimental to employee productivity
BE FEARLESS: Employees who waste company time will do it whether you shut down the internet or not. Trust that the improved knowledge and networks of the employees who use social media for the right reasons will more than make up for the slackers.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: It could damage the company’s reputation
BE CAUTIOUS: Experimenting with social media is not without risk.
Have you read about the American Cancer Society Facebook debacle? How much hard-won brand equity did this naive mistake cost?
Was it worth it?
SOCIAL MEDIA FEARS: Security risks, Unwillingness to be transparent
BE CAUTIOUS: It’s easy for social media gurus to preach transparency — there are no real secrets to protect. But in most businesses, confidential information is a source of competitive advantage. Many secrets — product formulas, new product launches, plans to enter new markets — are important to keep secret.
When the risks are clear (see above) and the rewards are not, a responsible CMO or CEO must ask his or her people to go slow. Look before you leap is a hopeless cliche. But it doesn’t mean it’s bad advice. If your people are passionate about social media, invest in some listening tools. And, set clear goals about what you need to learn.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEARS: We already have information overload/Terrified of feedback and truth
BE CAUTIOUS: Listening to what consumers say about you isn’t going to hurt you. In fact, good feedback can help you improve.
Still, we need to take this with a hefty grain of salt.
I’m intrigued by Tim Marco’s notion of Voluntary Selection Bias. Are we really listening to everybody (e.g. a truly representative sample?), or the ravings of a small but vocal group? More important, are we listening to likely buyers?
If we’re going to treat social media as research, we need to be as rigorous about understanding the sample size and composition as we are when looking at any other consumer research.