Abusing Social Media in Fast Company, November 2008

The November 2008 edition of Fast Company has a great article (“Abusing Social Media”) about how companies are experimenting with the latest technology tools and, instead of reaping the rewards, are embarrassing themselves online.

“Thanks for nothing, Web 2.0. With each sexy bit of social media that catches fire with users, lame companies get another fresh opportunity to pretend they know how to connect with customers without understanding what they’re doing. No business is abandoning traditional advertising in favor of these gimmicky, halfhearted efforts. They’re just abandoning any self-respect they once possessed. Whee!” “Abusing Social Media”, Fast Company, November 2008.

What’s unfortunate about these major failures and their use of social media is that other organizations are hearing their stories and are staying away or making the same mistakes.  Companies aren’t investing the time to learn how to do it right.

Take Twitter for example.  I am quite fond of this extremely popular microsharing service.  My recent tweets are posted on the sidebar of my blog.  Through using TwitterFeed, I’m able to link new posts on my blog to Twitter.  Facebook has an application where my tweets are posted as status updates.

All of this makes me more efficient in my distribution.  However, it doesn’t automatically make me a better communicator.  Improving those skills takes time.  I need to listen to what is being said to me and thoughtfully respond.  And, I do mean, thoughtfully.  With the constraint of 140 characters the requirement to be concise, brief, and effective is definitely a good thing.  I’m often teased for being long-winded.  I respond to those jabs with: “I just like being thorough in my communications and conversations!”

The Fast Company article brings up companies that are tweeting their press releases rather than using it to build relationships and community.  Note to companies: This isn’t building a relationship, it’s broadcasting.

The embarrassing usages of social media aren’t about how the technology isn’t good or an effective use of time (remember time equals money). Instead it is about forgetting how to communicate.

These companies as well as many non-profit organizations still believe that the internet is just a broadcast medium–if they put their information out there, of course, everybody is going to read or listen to it.  You can’t just “blast” it out there and hope for the best.  This isn’t a Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come” medium.

What these companies have forgotten is that they have to do some listening to their current customers and some research to discover where they hang out online.  They have to spend time to cultivating the relationships.  It isn’t enough to just have your information or event posted online, you have to make sure your constituencies can find you.  To solve that, maybe you should do some inbound marketing.

Over the weekend I started reading Groundswell.  There was an interesting thought about ratings sites that I’ll paraphrase here:  If company starts to receive negative reviews about the product, it isn’t because people are out to get the company.  It may actually be that there are problems in the product.

The same holds true for internet marketing.  If you have an event on a social media site that only a few people have RSVPed for or you don’t have that many followers on Twitter, or your patrons are ignoring you online, it may not be because they aren’t interested or that they don’t like you.

Instead, it may be that there are problems with your strategy: You’re broadcasting instead of communicating and building relationships.

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