VP Director of Interactive Communications and Associate Creative Director, Combe Incorporated
Originally published on Tom's Blog, Consumer Packaged Goods, Outside the Box. on August 17th, 2009
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.
Careless Tweeting can cost millions of dollars. If social media ‘experts" have sometimes had costly lapses of judgment, time and again, how can a CEO be confident that newbies will do better?
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.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: So much of what's discussed online is shallow and we have real work to do
BE FEARLESS: Opportunities aren't always where we think they are. Encourage the passionate people in your company to find time to learn about social media, without neglecting their current duties. Ask them to report back what they've learned.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: We don't have the time/resources to contribute and moderate
BE CAUTIOUS: There are ALWAYS a lot of things a company can do, and NEVER enough money and attention to do them all well. Leaders have to choose which activities they believe will have the strongest payout, and focus on those.
Sometimes the fun, sexy stuff is the PERFECT place for a company to focus their efforts. Sometimes not.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: Our customers don't use it/It doesn't fit into current structures
BE FEARLESS: Listen and find out if your customers use social media, and how they do it. Once you know more, you can decide whether it's smart to overhaul your current structures or not.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: We are in B2B and who wants to hear about our boring product on a blog or twitter
BE FEARLESS: I think Social media may be stronger for B2B than for B2C, because it's typically a more intimate sale and the needs are more clearly articulated. Listen first - you may be surprised by what you hear.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: Traditional media is still bigger, we will use Social Media when it is more mainstream
BE CAUTIOUS: A recent Forrester report says that 80% of the ad spend in 2014 will still be in traditional media. We've been trying to bury TV since the early 1990s, and it refuses to stay dead. Why?
From a consumer POV, it's because it's still pretty good. Have you seen "30 Rock" lately?
From an advertiser's POV, it's because it offers scale and message control that social media can't possibly provide.
It doesn't mean social media isn't important. But it's important to keep its size and role in perspective.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEARS: No guaranteed results/tools to measure and analyze Social Media aren't mature enough yet
BE FEARLESS: There are no guaranteed results in business anywhere. Beware of Madoffs who promise you there are.
Also, tools to measure and analyze will NEVER be good enough. I believe we'll ultimately learn that it is as difficult to prove ROI for social media as it has been for traditional PR.
But just because something can't be quantified to the micro-penny doesn't mean it can't add value. All business is a bet on the future, and not all bets pay off.
We can't steer the world by sitting in front of Microsoft Excel. Our what-if scenarios must meet the real world at some point, if they are ever to deliver results. If your gut says social media can help you reach a goal and you understand the risk-reward equation clearly, go for it.
SOCIAL MEDIA FEAR: We will lose control of our brand and image
BE CAUTIOUS: Gurus love to preach about how "the consumer is in control", and in many important ways that's true. But a company's brand is a precious asset, and not something that any company can afford to simply turn over to a mob that will seek to damage it just for LULZ.
CEOs and CMOs still have a very real responsibility to grow and protect their brand's image. There's a difference between understanding that the customer is boss and abdicating your responsibility for protecting the brand.
The Bottom Line: Balance
All real growth comes from trying something new and different. But, that's not the same thing as taking a flying leap into the darkness.
Companies and brands need to find a way to balance the need for learning with the need for appropriate caution.
I think companies like P&G are doing a good job of immersing their execs in digital culture and testing the waters.
You may not be as big as P&G, but there's still a lot you can learn from watching how they have approached social media.
How are you finding your balance in social media?