The Dangerous Lure of Avoiding the Social Web

Jonathan Salem BaskinI was thinking about naming this post, Why Jonathan Salem Baskin is Wrong… but I actually agree with him on many points in his post, The Dangerous Lure of the Social Web. I agree, for instance, that social media gurus often try to push businesses into leveraging the media without fully understanding the culture or resources at the company they’re working with. It shouldn’t be a surprise, though. They’re trying to sell a product… their own consulting!

I do disagree with Mr. Baskin on a couple of points, though:

  1. The wording dangerous lure evokes some terrible image of the social web destroying a company. The fact is that, unless you’re working for a corporation under severe regulatory conditions, talking and listening to your customers isn’t as ominous as it sounds. In fact, it’s very much expected and appreciated. If your competition is available in networks that you don’t exist in… the results can be devastating. Companies that have the resources and processes in place to manage their reputation online and handle the communication have found the social web both effective and efficient for everything from customer service issues to building authority in their industry.
  2. The social web has changed everything… more than marketers would like to admit. Stating that it hasn’t would be the equivalent of saying that unions didn’t have an impact on the industrial revolution. After all, the production lines, the products, the management and the work was all still there, right? Right… but unions empowered labor to impact management and pay. Labor unions could make or break a company… and they have. This is the equivalent of the social web. Companies are already leapfrogging their competition by adopting social practices; others are falling behind. Stating otherwise is irresponsible.

Mr. Baskin states:

People have always had conversations about brands. Before the internet, there were communities of geography, profession, education, religion and a host of social groups that were perhaps less broad and bright than those available online, but instead more deep and sustaining. Their activities were certainly more literally hands-on and their outcomes more lifestyle-defining. Social behavior isn’t unique to technology; it’s just that we have partial visibility into some aspects of how people converse now, so we want to prompt or participate in those activities.

Yes, this is true… but at issue is that these conversations are now becoming part of the public record. They can be indexed, organized and discovered in a search engine in a matter of seconds. And the masses are paying more and more attention to the negative comments and reviews that a company accumulates. A missed queue on handling a customer issue nowadays can have a significant impact on a company’s reputation where it never did before.

Marketers aren’t allowed to hide behind a logo, a slogan, and a fancy jingle anymore… marketers are being forced to communicate directly with the masses. We used just to talk… now we must listen and respond. No response in this social realm is akin to not caring about your customers. Marketers haven’t been properly prepared for this… and are scrambling to learn objection management, networking, and other skills well beyond their education and experience.

The impact on businesses is real. Companies are scrambling for resources to cover the effort needed to monitor and respond to the social web. This is another issue that’s missed with social media gurus. They underestimate the resources required to publish enough, answer fast enough, and develop the processes needed to fully leverage the social web.

So, while I agree the gurus do a poor job with executives on preparing them for the social web, I believe the avoidance of the social web is far more risky.

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