Social media means a lot of things to a lot of companies. One thing it means more than anything else is loss of control. Marketing folks will put on a good face about social media in public, but when they sit down with me, their fears start to spill out.
When I first began consulting with companies about social media, I had a simple, standard answer to this. You have already lost control. Your message is no longer in your hands. It's out there being tossed around like a hacky sack by anyone with an iPhone or a PC. The horse has left the barn. The train, the station. Pick your hackneyed metaphor--you get the point. As someone recently noted: dissatisfied customers were always there, but now they have the platforms on which to complain publicly. Ignore them at your peril.
As accurate as this response is, I'm beginning to realize it's not always that sympathetic or useful. We all know intellectually that the online world has invaded the bubblelike atmosphere of the corporate one. Folks in marketing aren't stupid. They see the writing on the wall. But human nature is to respond in one of three ways when threatened: fight, flight or freeze. And to be honest, freezing is the most common response. Unfortunately, in the real world, this is the least preferable of all three.
Creativity is the antidote. Once you start thinking about what you would like to see--your ideal outcome--the fears are put into their proper place. Here's an example: EMC, a company that very well might have as many detractors as it does fans due to its size and influence. Rather than shying away from controversy, the company grabbed hold of the social media trend and ran with it in ways that few other companies have. Recent evidence of this: their blogs swept through and took the top four slots in a recent poll of storage vendor blogs.
The strategy is simple. Get out of the way and let those inside the company evangelize, argue, and otherwise engage with anyone and everyone who might be trash talking about them. Some have even given themselves names to underline their controversial attitudes, "Storagezilla," "The Storage Anarchist." EMC also made a shrewd move when it allowed employees to generate their own blogs, rather than keeping them in a playpen under the company banner. This sets them apart from competitor NetApp, which has had significantly less success with its blogging efforts.
They're also building networks from within, as this recent slideshow illustrates. All of which adds up to an energetic community that is engaged in social media on multiple fronts in a way that few companies can boast. This is just one example, but one I've been watching closely in order to model it for the smaller operations I tend to work with. There is a certain bullheadedness in they're approach that goes against the grain for most of us. There's also a sense of play and creativity. In short, this is the opposite of how most of us respond to scary situations.
What are you doing to combat your fears about losing control of your message? If it's not something that goes against your first impulse, it might not be enough.