In no particular order, four reasons why companies are (still) skittish about involving themselves in social media:
- The sands shift too often. Take a look at MySpace—this company, the darling of the early stages of social media—is laying-off half of its staff. Today’s hero is tomorrow’s zero, so why bother? I had my own scare recently when the news of Yahoo’s! chucking Delicious broke. Relying on a social tool for business seems to be about as wise as crossing a highway on foot—blindfolded. Businesses don’t like uncertainty, and there’s little to be certain about in social media—other than social media is here to stay. The process and an understanding of the rules and mores of social media are more important than the tools themselves. So throwing your lot in with a “Twitter strategy” or a “Facebook strategy” isn’t as smart as developing a company culture in which social media is understood. But changing a company’s culture is intimidating, and involves risk. And it takes time.
- The benefits don’t match the claims. Stock blog 24/7 Wall Street posted “The Fifteen Most Hated American Companies of 2010.” On the list is social media darling Dell—they have terrific social media outreach, responding quickly to complaints posted on social media outlets. Best Buy is also on the list, yet has recently been lauded for its efforts to connect to customers. Comcast, another company praised for its social media efforts on Twitter, won Consumerist’s Worst Company of the Year award. So anyone looking for social media to make a quick turnaround in a corporate reputation is going to be disappointed. It takes time to improve the images of large companies. A start: don’t make (many) mistakes, and when you do, empower the first person that people encounter to complain about the problem, the authority to fix the problem. This likely involves changing a number of things that companies might not want to alter for cost reasons such as including how customer complaints are addressed and again, perhaps altering company culture.
- Another roadblock to adoption is how companies are using social media. Unlike traditional advertising and marketing, social media is about relationships, which take time to build. Companies trying to claw their way to profitability after a protracted recession don’t want to hear that social media efforts might not bear fruit for months or years. For as quickly as things move in social media, it takes a while to develop and engage a community—companies either don’t understand this, or don’t want to accept it. It’s also largely one-on-one, which is time consuming and expensive, and therefore doesn’t have the “bang for the buck” that businesses seem to want. Related: I think this is why we see so much emphasis on “making a viral _________.” That meets the criteria for quick, widespread attention. But it also demonstrates a lack of understanding of how social media works, because you can’t “make” something go viral. You can incorporate elements that are common to many—such as surprising, or clever, or funny—but that’s no guarantee it will light up the Internet.
- Social media is starting to enter the scariest phase of business maturity—Laws, lawsuits, and protracted legal battles. This is what a number of companies have been wary of all along, having been warned by their internal legal team that the Wild West of social media was just too risky. In addition to being expensive if you’re on the wrong end of these issues, see point #1: Businesses don’t like uncertainty.
It’s somewhat remarkable that we are still discussing these elements, even now. Social media has been around for years, and there are still companies that aren’t fully engaged. Heck, there are some companies that haven’t even really started yet. Is it because the benefits were overpromised, or was too much expected? Is waiting until some of the legal issues are sorted out logical, or another stalling tactic?