Scared of Social Media
By: Matt Sneed
--- 04/28/2010

I've had a love/hate relationship with social media over the years. When the topic of social media or the social web invariably comes up in conversation I find my response generally depends upon my mood. Are there applicable business needs for social media? Sure. It's marketing in a different medium. Can it be utilized for customer service? Sure. Will it affect the way your business is perceived? Sure. However, my argument is that despite the ramblings you will hear from all the self-proclaimed "social media ninjas/gurus/experts" utilizing social media does NOT HAVE TO serve all these purposes. Any use is better than no use and I talk to plenty of people who are turned off by what they hear and choose to walk away from the whole concept.

First off, much of the advice business owners hear is the oft-repeated (mostly laughed at) "it's a conversation", "you don't own the brand, the consumer does", etc. Both of the statements could very well be true, but they are WRONG when used in a blanket manner. Yes, twitter is a great tool for communication. It does not have to be interactive. Using twitter as a marketing tool to broadcast news is better than not using twitter at all. Sure your local social media ninja will argue that you're ruining your business but you're not. Doing anything is better than doing nothing. The safest step is to understand it, and participate in whatever level you feel is comfortable and beneficial. Much of the social media missteps we see are because people are diving in too heavy, with little understanding of the medium. Tip-toe in, it's ok.

I'm going to play devil's advocate here and suggest that some of the time spent on social media isn't actually worth it. The specific example I'd like to suggest is the person who DEMANDS a conversation from you just for the sake of feeling like they are entitled to a conversation due to the fact that social media exists. Small business owners are busy and social media is the new equivalent of writing letters to an organization. When you mix "real-time communication" with this feeling of entitlement, you end up with a whole group of users who are quick to tell you you're doing it wrong, and whole group of users who will immediately go "YEA!", making noise for the sake of making noise. This noise can reach scary levels. However, if you're actually taking care of people and making potential and existing clients and customers as happy as you can, then the noise is just unwarranted noise. If a customer or client has a legitimate concern or question, and they're unable to reach you in more urgent ways other than twitter, well then social media participation is not your business's problem.

The point is ignoring social media is ignoring an opportunity. It's marketing first and foremost and you'd be amiss not to utilize it. Don't be scared off by the loud, self-proclaimed "experts". It's easy to hear all the demands they're making and run the other way. Best bet is to start simple, listen to what your customers want, do some research and if you're uncomfortable with it talk to your marketing folks and take the first step by using it as a information broadcaster...the more you use it the more comfortable you'll become and eventually it'll make sense and seem natural for however much time you can dedicate. That's how we all started.

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