Social Media for Business — Walk Cautiously

I’m going to break rank with my marketing peers on this topic. As a B2B marketer about every other thing I read related to my profession has something to do with social media (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN, etc.). It seems like every marketer is chasing these new found media types in search of gold. My message is, walk cautiously. Here’s my reasoning.

Just because everyone is enamored with twitter and the like, doesn’t mean there is a business case to justify spending a lot of time and money building campaigns around it. What is the return on that investment? If you don’t have a good answer to that question, don’t waste a bunch of time and money on it. The social media craze for consumers does not mean it is a money maker for businesses. Too often, the market can get worked into a frenzy over something. Then given some time, it realizes that there wasn’t much there to begin with.

Let’s set aside the consumer use of social media as I think that is a very different discussion. For businesses, what are the uses that make sense and which should you pursue? Here are a few, both good and bad. One of them relates specifically to contact center routing.

1. Participating in LinkedIN and other industry groups by commenting on discussion threads in an attempt to gain visibility for your company and help shape market viewpoints. GOOD

2. Blogging with useful, insightful non-promotional content. GOOD

3. Using social media sites and groups that are a part of your industry as a means of promoting your blog posts and driving traffic and readers to your blog. GOOD

4.  Spending time "following" and "getting followed" by anyone and everyone on Twitter and Facebook as a method of hoping that somewhere in those masses their must be a customer or two. BAD (This isn’t a high school popularity contest. Use social media to connect with the people in your industry that matter to you and forget about the rest).

5. Use Twitter to alert followers of something news-worthy. GOOD (You need to be sure that the message really is important. Otherwise, key followers will quit following you since they really aren’t interested in what you had for breakfast).

6. For the contact center…drop everything and start a development project to route incoming social media messages. BAD (This one is a little sticky and it has to do with timing. Right now, contact center customers are slowly but surely embracing additional media types beyond voice — i.e. email and web chat. The reality is that less than 30% of contact centers have implemented email routing. With that in mind, let these media types that have an obvious benefit get added to the contact center mix, before tackling social media. The time for social media routing in the contact center will come, but it isn’t here yet).

7. Monitor what is being said about your company in social media sectors and join in to defend yourself, clarify, or offer assistance. GOOD (There are good tools that can help you do this. Done appropriately, it can help you save a dissatisfied existing customer and/or win new business).

8. Assign someone in your company to learn everything there is to know about social media. BAD (This could consume a full time job without reaping much benefit. You can overdo it without needing to. IMO, have someone understand the basics of social media, know which online outlets match your business, monitor and act on the things being said about your company, and participate in related industry discussions. But that is about it. Social media will take up as much time as you’ll let it, and the rate of return goes down very quickly once you get past the basics).

I doubt this is an exhaustive list. So if you can think of others, both good and bad, please add them using the comment button. My bottom line message is that the value of social media for business use is over hyped. Sure, there are some good uses, as I’ve noted above, but don’t get carried away thinking this is going to be the core of your marketing strategy. Unless you are an Interactive Intelligence competitor, then have at it!

Sorry, I’m out of time. I’ve got to go tweet this post to all my followers.

Joe Staples — social media naysayer