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August 12, 2008

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Sigh,

I tried to check out the videos you link to in your previous post, but was blocked by my network's security software.

The message states, in part, "Your request was denied because of its content categorization: Social Networking;Streaming Media/MP3s"

We ARE allowed to watch the latest VW/Audi commercials posted on the company intranet. So social media is not so much embraced here, as it is awkwardly patted on the head.

I can't even believe this social-media blocking nonsense is still happening, Tom! What/who/why/WHEN will this ever change?

I've seen cases where it could be effective. For example, I work with a lot of indie musicians, who love this stuff because it gives them a bit of exposure.

I've seen it handled rather poorly from the social media perspective too though. There was an iced tea company (may have been Lipton, but I won't swear to that) who was running this kind of YouTube contest, asking customers / fans / etc. to vote on the best video.

I knew a musician who made their finals, so I kept an eye on the videos, fan comments, etc.

When push came to shove though, the company actually seemed to disregard any user input (and of course had it worked into the terms that they could do just that - choose a "winner" at their own discretion without caring what the "community" said).

That's not surprising given any kind of corporate marketing stunt, but really disappointing on the social media side where the users are supposed to matter - that's why they're wasting their time interacting with you after all. I think we're a long way off from most big companies really fully embracing what "social" media is all about.

Jenn—

Thanks for your insight. I'd quibble only with your remark that companies are "a long way off from" embracing democratic social media values.

This suggests they are moving, however slowly, in that direction. I don't think they are at all.

A friend of mine was complaining recently that technology is driving companies to end personal contact between their employees and customers.

No, I said: It's ALLOWING them to do what they've wanted to do all along: Remove the humanity and unpredictability of interactions between employees and customers, and mechanize the whole interaction.

Companies use whatever technology is available to meet their unchanging ends--which never have shared, and never will share more than coincidences and exceptions with the open-air social media culture.

David

I think the issue with all of these terrible campaigns (the Dial one is notably awful), and the issue with any corporation tackling social media, is that their purpose is all wrong.
These organizations are viewing social media as a space to generate revenue (which it can) when they should be viewing it as a space to contribute something (knowledge, entertianment, whatever) to a niche audience.
Social media-ites are a unique breed, and we will destroy anything that reeks of sales. This is not a glorified ad space-- it's an opportunity to share knowledge and generate buzz based on honesty and integrity.

You're probably right about the majority of larger companies out there, but I wouldn't say all. Every once in a while I come across companies who really do try to effectively use social media to interact with customers.

Here's an example that I highlighted on my PR blog not too long ago regarding PRWeb, and how their Marketing Manager (Joe Beaulaurier) was monitoring customer feedback through social media tools like blogs and forums (and not only did they gather feedback, but repeatedly made changes based on that feedback, which is always nice to see):

http://nakedpr.com/2008/05/14/customer-complaints-and-virtual-bitch-slaps-dealing-with-web-based-criticism/

I really think a lot of it comes down to the company's target markets. In PRWeb's case, they appeal to an audience who will listen to online feedback when determining whether or not they'll use the service, so it's in their best interest to listen and interact as much as possible.

Another example would be the Web hosting community. Again, online feedback is vital for them. I help moderate a huge webmaster community (folks who obviously need hosting services). In that community I've seen some of the very large providers come in and answer customer questions, address issues, etc. They interact because they have to. I've seen Google reps do the same in various places (although they're not great at using that feedback as constructively as other companies).

I think if any real progress happens it has to be when these companies go from "needing" to interact via social media to "wanting" to instead. When I work with musicians or online entrepreneurs, I see how passionate they are about wanting this kind of interaction. I'm not sure that I'm ready to give up hope in that desire eventually spreading to larger companies just yet. As long as social media efforts lie in the hands of marketers though, rather than folks using them predominantly for relationship-building in these organizations, I agree that we probably won't see it happen (not saying social media should never be used for marketing, but that doing so exclusively tends to lead to a loss of the "social" aspect).

Jenn--

Again, I appreciate and acknowledge all the shades of gray you see on this question. And I agree that good companies can find good uses for social media.

But this:

"When I work with musicians or online entrepreneurs, I see how passionate they are about wanting this kind of interaction. I'm not sure that I'm ready to give up hope in that desire eventually spreading to larger companies just yet."

Now what if you'd said a thing that outside the context of social media? Why on earth would we expect an artist's desperate desire for interaction to "spread" to corporations? Why would we expect Dell Computers to habitually behave like a one-person shop thankful for and thrilled with any interaction with a customer?

The addition of blogs and YouTube, the coming and going of the "New Economy" and "permission marketing," the publication of the Cluetrain Manifesto and the advent of the term "transparency" ... none of this changes basic reality:

Artists are in business to have interaction, entrepreneurs are hoping to fan five customers into five million, and big corporations are trying to use their money and scope to keep 50 million consumers grazing in their massive corporate field, instead of the other massive one, next door. And they're trying to keep the rest of us--and the government regulators--off their backs.

Such a mission doesn't suggest as a remedy some wide-open, public, no-holds-barred brainstorming conversation about the company's products, practices or brand.

And so generally--GENERALLY--the big corporation only pretends to communicate like the starving artist, and we get the "Campaign for Clean Hands."

And behind every pathetic corporate campaign that doesn't "get" social media is a guru or agency that is peddling this approach because there's money in the same old manipulative shouting at your audiences. When the "consultant" then seeds around social media how wonderful the campaign is (for client eyes of course), then the client believes they are doing a great job.

Persuading big companies to take a subtle approach which requires slow cooking time rather than fast sizzle is a tough sell for any communicator who does get it. That applies whether you work in-house or for a consultant.

I don't know that I'd call all artists "desperate" for attention and interaction. ;) It's as true of the major label artists (where you do have the corporate backing) in many cases as it is with the smaller independents. It still comes down to selling a product, whether like you said it's trying to convert five customers into 5 million, or trying to maintain those buyers (in this case fans), versus all of the other constant competition out there when the next product (album in this case) comes out.

I don't expect that most large companies are ever going to embrace social media tools in the same way independent and creative professionals do. That said, I think there's a lot those larger corporate types could learn from them (whether that be understanding that interaction can play a role in converting everyday customers into "fans" of your brand who not only help spread the word but also feel more loyal to your company, or whether that be learning how to make social media work in other ways that can be directly monetized - think fan-sponsored music - where they can realize more direct returns from this kind of interaction).

Lots of wisdom here, and good sense. It feels--for the first time in a long time--that we're coming to a place somewhere near reality regarding social media and corporate communication.

Heather truer (and more universally applicable) words than these aren't often spoken.

"Persuading big companies to take a subtle approach which requires slow cooking time rather than fast sizzle is a tough sell for any communicator who does get it. That applies whether you work in-house or for a consultant."

Keep speaking them. They get truer every year. No, every quarter!

Whether social or traditional media, I think one of the biggest challenges is to get companies to take responsibility for their individual actions in the socail media space. All too often they are ready to 'outsource' that responsibility by calling in agencies and consultants. When I advise clients on social I emphasise the efforts they have to make. If I'm doing my job properly, I'll help them start, hold their hands for a while and then get out of the way.
Socialising has to be something you want to do. People and companies choose different forms of interaction depending on what they prefer and what works for them. Forcing it just makes them sound false.

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