Social Media: A Waste of Your Organization’s Time?

The rise of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and others is not foreign to most.  Unless you’ve been asleep for the past few years, you know that social networks exist and that people use them.  Heavily.  It hasn’t taken long for public relations professionals to put their arms around the medium (playing both offense and defense) and for marketers to see it as a “free” pipeline to new customers.

But not all managers and business owners have been so quick to embrace social networking.  Research reports from around the Web reveal that many leaders have yet to jump in with both feet.  And while surveys and data tell the story, it is in conversations with professionals that the story comes alive.  In talking with business owners about using Twitter, some of the reflexive comments they convey include:

You can’t blame people for reacting to social media opportunities this way.  We typically hear about Twitter in the mass media when, for example, a professional athlete says something he shouldn’t or a celebrity couple breaks up because of it.  It’s hard to get a serious person to take something seriously when it is associated with things that aren’t, well, serious.  As a cumulative result, social media tools get dissed and dismissed.

But there is a real danger in this for corporations and leaders.  While people are indeed talking about things that do not matter to you, they are also talking (every once in a while) about things that matter to them.  And they’re talking to each other.  Along the way, they are mentioning brands.  They’re mentioning the nice barista at Starbucks, the on-time departure with Jet Blue, and the deal they just scored at the Volkswagen dealership.  And while it might not be your brand today, it might be tomorrow.  And that should matter to you.

Learning about social media doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to start broadcasting whether you like Cheerios or Wheaties in the morning.  Lifecasting may not be for you.  But it is a big deal to some.

In the end, there is a spectrum of social media users.  At one end of the spectrum might be the life-casters:  they use Twitter, Facebook, and others several times a day to communicate with friends, post pictures, and, yes, follow celebrities.  On the other end of the spectrum are the real nay-sayers.  Not only do they not participate in social networking, they may even poke fun at those who do.  In the middle of the spectrum might be those that dabble from time-to-time.  Maybe they update their status every once in a while, but mostly they lurk–simply monitoring their friends’ activities for fun or entertainment.

No matter where you fall on this spectrum, it’s our assertion that no place is the “right” place to be.  You’re not necessarily missing the boat if you’re not a life-caster.  In our view, the only danger is in not acknowledging the spectrum itself.  Dismissing it altogether may result in lost opportunities for you and your organization.