Social Media- Talk is Cheap for Businesses

snake oil There’s lots of talk about social media. Tons. The echo is nearly deafening at this point. Freedom. Openness. We have powerful tools to communicate. We are the media. It’s all about the conversation. We talk about this all the time. But at the same time more people are just starting to get into this, and so it’s all new and exciting and fresh all over again, businesses are starting to ask, “Hey, is there something here, or is this just another billable item like when we used to pay for someone to build us brochureware?” Businesses are asking how this stuff all threads into their world, their terms. They’re asking how we’re going to change their bottom line, deliver something to their top line, make this all worth it.

Do you have an answer for them? Here are some thoughts that lead down the path of helping businesses understand the value proposition:

Collaboration Tools- Internal

Things like blogs, podcasting, utterz, twitter, wikis, and more unified tools like Clearspace and BaseCamp are useful for internal processes and collaboration. I believe they are better than the tools most enterprises uses to communicate around a project. I believe the implementation of such tools is simple, requires little to no infrastructure (depending on security requirements), and most often can be cloud-operated, depending on comfort levels. These can be used for a number of use cases:

  • Status messaging
  • Informational training
  • Project management
  • Knowledge management

Social Networking Tools – White Label

For organizations who have a large customer base, a large partner base, or any circumstance where the audience is already fairly well defined (more often in B2C spaces), building a social network around your community such that you manage and maintain all aspects of the experience is simple. Tools like Ning and Mzinga and several others exist, can be implemented inexpensively, and deliver some potential value around a mixture of uses:

  • Lead generation
  • Customer service
  • Community development
  • Product development (Lego Mindstorm, Dell Ideastorm, My Starbucks Idea)
  • Data collection (profiles and usage might drive more marketing insight)
  • Recruiting

Social Networking Tools – Commercial / Consumer

The MySpace/Facebook/LinkedIN/Bebo/Orkut whatevers are all places where people gather. As such, one might use these areas as a place to market, a place to recruit, a place to understand the marketplace, a place to make relationships without strings (I know that’s crazy talk, but hey). Have they proven fertile ground for advertising? Not for B2B. How about for B2C? The results are mixed. Ad spending is shifting online. GM announced recently that they’re moving towards 1/3 of their ad spending to be online in the next little while. How much of that will show up in MySpace? Not clear.

Blogging, Podcasting, Video, Getting the Word Out

Blogging, I believe, is one of the best (maybe easiest) use cases to support. There’s the customer service angle, like how Lionel Menchaca really shifted public opinion of Dell with the Direct2Dell blog. Bill Marriott of the hotel world keeps a decent blog. There’s a value to convincing companies to blog if they:

  • Write genuine, conversational content that is not just me me me.
  • Put the passionate person in charge of writing, not just the boss.
  • Enable comments and be willing to engage in uncomfortable discussions (with a reasonable comments policy in place).
  • Respond and comment on other people’s blogs often, too.

Podcasting has some great applications, both in audio and video. The infrastructure and the production effort for both is inexpensive compared to traditional audio and video means. People are expecting more of a YouTube experience than a movie theater experience, and the more personal and direct the material, the better people relate. Businesses are learning how video can sweeten the experience. Look at StandOut Jobs, a company working heavily with video to create quality job recruiting and placement services.

Traditional media has flooded its way into podcasting. Check out the Apple iTunes store and you’ll see it. Count in any section how many mainstream or mainstream-derivative products there are in the featured area compared to independents and you’ll get an easy snapshot. And yet, for businesses, there’s still a value there to pursue due to cheap production and cheap distribution opportunities.

The Staffing Issues

Where does one put a corporate blogger? Marketing? IT? Customer Service? Product Development? It depends, and yet, that’s a question when it comes down to figuring out payroll, HR, reporting structure, and what comes next. How does one MEASURE the effectiveness of this? Oh go ahead. Tell me you know. There are SOME numbers. Lionel Menchaca from Dell talked about the negative perception rating as a key metric they tracked during his blogging efforts (which Lionel helped reduce some 30% or more).

Oh, and good luck asking for a resume that will include the appropriate background for this. Where does a blogger or a community manager or a podcaster show their experience? They can DEMONSTRATE their capabilities, but they can’t exactly point to a past role (well, most of you can’t) and say, “Here’s where I shot video for Rocketboom.” Does this make it harder to recruit? And are there really HR teams out there looking for social media types, or is this coming straight from the product management skunkworks fund?

Here’s a square peg, round hole situation. If you’re the community manager, you’re in a position where it’s part customer service, part PR, part support, and part product development. You’re at once the customer advocate as well as the rah rah person for the company. And where do you get your training? To whom do you report? How does anyone give you a metric to cover what you do in a day.

If you’re in the tech space, do you send your community manager to conferences? It’s not business development. It’s not lead generation (as such). And yet, finance departments are receiving expense reports from people traveling to conferences just to do some “brand exposure.” How long will that last, if there’s nothing to measure on the other end of it?

Starting to get the picture?

Your Part In All This- If You’re Thinking Business

If you’re looking at this from a “working with businesses” perspective, I have a few things to say. You’re going to have to address all that stuff up top and a bunch more. You’re going to have to know how to convince Corporate IT departments to crack open parts of the firewall. You’re going to have to help write job descriptions that explain what these jobs do for these businesses. You’re going to have to get a whole lot less vague on the value you’re bringing to the table as a thought leader and strategist in this space. You’re not going to have an easy walk into the door of a not-so-Silicon-Valley place as a blogger or podcaster, so start upping your ante on skills and perspective.

If you’re a media maker trying to establish yourself, you go for it. There are plenty of people out there proving it can be done. Gary Vaynerchuk is all heart, and has an agent. Adam and Howard and team sold Wallstrip to CBS, got the go ahead to make a new show. Kent and Doug hit it so big, they’ve been given a feature film to mess around with. And there are plenty of role models to emulate, should you want to build a media business of value.

Where’s the Peace and Love and Kool-Aid?

There’s tons. TONS. But just decide to take that blue pill. If you do, that’s cool. There’s lots of fun to be had in making media, communicating, sharing your voice, reaching out and establishing new relationships. People do it all the time and it matters.

Back to the Red Pill

If you’re going to present yourself as a business professional showing the value of these tools to companies, step up your game. Do. Make. Learn. And build the appropriate “human interface” between what these businesses understand and what you’re offering. It’s there. You CAN do it. You have to be working at it from that perspective.

Okay. Thoughts? Agree? Disagree? Let’s have at it.

The Social Media 100 is a project by Chris Brogan dedicated to writing 100 useful blog posts in a row about the tools, techniques, and strategies behind using social media for your business, your organization, or your own personal interests. Swing by [] for more posts in the series, and if you have topic ideas, feel free to share them, as this is a group project, and your opinion matters.

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Photo credit, w*a*a

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