I recently shared a Bulldog Reporter audio conference panel with two corporate communicators and another representative from the dark side (read: PR firms). The topic was social media and, thanks to some excellent moderating by the lovely and talented Brian Pittman, the discussion was rather lively.
I found myself disagreeing with one of the corporate panelists who advised the 150-plus listening audience to engage in social media at all costs, 'Look,' he advised, 'Social media is the future and you might as well engage sooner rather than later.'
I agreed, sort of. I think personal engagement in social media is, indeed, a no-brainer. But, an organization should think long and hard before taking the plunge. The corporate panelist said organizations can learn as they go. Well, yes, but some serious, and potentially devastating missteps can occur during that learning phase.
I likened social media to a busy intersection in a large city. Conventional wisdom holds that one should look both ways before crossing. Social media is the same: organizations should listen to all stakeholders before proceeding. Does each and every audience need/want your organization to engage with them in a social media dialogue? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe information overloaded employees don't want or need a company Facebook page. Maybe long-standing customers prefer the pleasures of a face-to-face meeting over a Don Draper-like scotch and soda. And maybe local community leaders expect a town hall type back-and-forth on issues of the day.
The social media land rush mentality can undermine your organization's image, reputation and credibility if you dive in without listening first.
Brian Pittman asked what sort of questions an organization should ask of its stakeholders during a listening phase. That's easy: the exact same questions neophyte journalists are trained to ask before crafting a news article: who, what, when, where, why and how.
Make sure your audiences want to engage in social media before you decide to flip on the switch. Just because your management wants to, or your competitors are doing it or, even worse, some expert says it's here to stay and you better engage are the wrong reasons.
In the same way rushing across an intersection can be detrimental to one's health, diving pell-mell into social media can be dangerous to one's brand.