Social Media Suckage

Social media is the number one marketing topic of the day. You can't turn on your PC without a PR pundit telling you how social media will totally change your business, help you sell more, turn your customers into content co-creators, and make your life perfect.

This is bunk, of course. Social media is just one more thing that someone will pretend to know more about than you do in order to make money from your lack of knowledge. Social media is not so readily pinned down; it's fluid, and moves with the crowd. Companies that have tried to use FaceBook to sell product (other than games) have wasted their money.

So what is social media good for?

Communication. Social media can be one of the best ways to communicate with Customers, because it is perceived as more direct and honest than plain old PR. But there is a price to pay: To be effective and not come off as out-of-touch or, worse, evil, you must do the following:

  • To cover your backside, write specific rules regarding who is allowed to write about what happens at work, and what they are allowed to say. Make certain that everyone in your organization signs it, and fire anyone that violates it.
  • Have a plan. Since when has anything gone well for your business when you just let things happen? Social media is no different. You need to know what you want to get out of it, the steps to get there, the metrics you want to see and the timeline by which they must be accomplished. See? You already know how to do this.
  • Manage the conversation. Have Customer Service read all posts every day and immediately respond to the ones that need responding to. Some companies make the mistake of having the PR department respond to posts. PR is not a conversation; Customer Service has always been one. Social media is just a continuation of that conversation.
  • Unless you are a game developer, don't believe anyone who says that they can help you make money on FaceBook. They're lying.
  • Don't settle on one platform. Social media blows with the wind. To be part of the conversation, you have to be where your Customers are. New social media platforms arise seemingly out of nowhere and get hot fast (witness Pinterest). They disappear just as quickly (MySpace much?).
  • Never, ever remove a post. You will instantly lose all credibility. Forever.
  • Never pretend to be a customer. You will be found out, and you will burn for it.

One of the benefits of the social media conversation is that your fans and your enemies tend to congregate in one spot. If you respond quickly and positively to the latter, you grow the former. And that is where the real value comes in: as always, anything that a Customer says about you has infinitely more weight than anything that you say. No one believes your TV and radio ads; no one is seduced by your mailers or your stuffers or your email blasts. But one fan saying nice things about you on the platform of the moment resonates. (They also don't cost you a dime.) But bear in mind that it resonates just as loudly when an unauthorized employee says how much work blows on FaceBook, Twitter, or your company blog.

If you want to know what the current hot platform is, ask your kids. If you don't have any of your own, ask your neighbor's kids. They'll know. They can also tell you far more than you want to know about how each works. And at most, you'll have to buy some Girl Scout cookies that you were going to buy, anyway.

See? Social media isn't scary. Now go paste some pictures of food and kittens on Pinterest.

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