Social media offers a variety of opportunities for brands to understand and participate in those conversations.
While participating in social media is not without risk, not participating might prove to be the greater risk — especially to reputations.
[Thank you Harvard Business Review]
[by Clara Shih and Lisa Shalett | 07.31.13]
There are conversations taking place about your company or brand 24 hours a day, seven days a week in social media. Are you a part of these conversations? Or are you hoping that if you don't hear them, they don't exist?
Social media offers a variety of opportunities for brands to understand and participate in those conversations. While participating in social media is not without risk, not participating might prove to be the greater risk — especially to reputations.
Here are three risks of not being in social media for big companies or major brands, small business owners, and service providers:
Having your reputation defined by others: People are talking about you, your company and your brand, and your stakeholders expect you to be paying attention in real time, especially when they have a customer service complaint or positive feedback to give. You decide whether to participate in this conversation or not, but at least you are aware of what is being said. This is the new frontier for reputation risk management. If you don't tell your story, others will tell it for you.
Being invisible and less credible: The social Web is changing how people communicate and access information. With a smartphone or tablet in hand, you can search for and find almost any information you seek, within seconds, whenever and wherever you are. People are looking you up. Not having a presence means you are not easily "findable" and perhaps leads people to question whether yours is a credible business. People are increasingly turning to social networks as the easiest way to get their questions answered. Potential buyers are going online to research products or services before they purchase them, or new contacts before they meet them. On average, buyers progress nearly 60% of the way through their purchase decision-making process before engaging with a sales representative, according to Corporate Executive Board (link is PDF). If people are looking for information about you or your business, what are they finding? A social page or profile at its most basic level enables you to provide accurate and helpful information about what you or your company does to your intended audience. Additionally, social media pages typically appear with prominence in search results — without these online presences, relationship managers and organizations risk not being present in the search results when an interested prospect goes looking.
Being perceived as behind the curve: As consumers embrace new technologies, they expect businesses to do the same. Companies (and their representatives) that aren't using social networks will not be perceived as forward-thinking and, in the long term, will risk losing customers who want business partners who speak their language. Would you create a new personal checking account with a bank that doesn't have an online portal? Today, we depend upon online access to data, including our finances, so that seems unthinkable. Soon customers will feel this way about having a social connection with businesses.
Social media is perhaps best thought of as a set of new and innovative ways for businesses and customers to do what they have always done: build relationships, exchange information, read and write reviews, and leverage trusted networks of friends and experts.
As you contemplate the risks and rewards of social media, we would suggest that the key ingredient for evaluation is simply to experience it for yourself. There are many low risk ways to do this, even if you work in a regulated industry. One of the best suggestions we have is to take on a "reverse mentor," a more junior colleague who has grown up with social media, and have them share their knowledge with you.
Today's always on, social-mobile world is challenging all businesses, brands, and professionals to adapt — or at least make an informed decision not to. As you consider the full set of risks associated with being or not being in social media, it is important not to overlook the rewards and opportunities.
CLARA SHIH AND LISA SHALETT
Clara Shih is the CEO & Founder, Hearsay Social. Lisa Shalett is the Managing Director and Head of Brand Marketing & Digital Strategy, Goldman Sachs
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