Starting With Social Media…Getting Past That BIG First Step

Last week, I spoke to an audience that consisted of members from several different groups, boards and associations. They are all a part of a large—and important—industry. It was a very interesting presentation. (In the interest of client confidentiality, I am not going to identify the group I spoke with.)

When I present, one of the first questions that I ask is if anyone is tweeting. Not one person in this group raised their hand. It was the first time in more than 18 months that I was in a room that did not have at least 25% of the audience sharing information from my presentation on Twitter.  It is amazing how much the world has changed. These days, I am really surprised when people aren’t on Twitter during a speech, keynote or workshop.

As an industry and as individual organizations, each person at this presentation has a strong need and opportunity to share their story with consumers. They have great stories to share. The work these people do is crucial in providing services and products to us that are a necessary part of our lives. They are also under a great deal of pressure from several “anti” groups—groups that are very active in public relations and social media.

The people in the room were smart and business savvy. They understand that their industry has some reputational challenges that are only getting more difficult to deal with, thanks to social media.

However, the sense that I got was that they weren’t sure how to make social media work for them on limited budgets and with limited time and resources. Like most professionals these days, they have a huge amount on their plate and aren’t sure how to add more and do it right.  The fact is, there are many organizations in a wide range of industries that feel this way.

I only had an hour to give the group some of the basics and to show the value of the use of social media as a component of their PR outreach. I thought it would be helpful to outline a few of those key points here.

  • Social media is here and it is widely accepted. That means that conversations are happening now about your company, your organization and your industry. It is crucial to know what is being said and who is saying it.
  • Social media provides an opportunity to correct misinformation, errors and miscommunication. You have an opportunity to connect directly with your stakeholders—whether they are consumers, other businesses, organizations in the same industry, government or others.
  • Social media provides the opportunity to create a dialogue; an interactive discussion that allows you to understand what perception is about your organization. You might not always agree or like what is being said, but isn’t it better to know? And if there are errors or misunderstandings, isn’t it better to explain what the correct information is?
  • It is crucial to define a strategy and then choose the tools. Not every CEO should blog and not every organization will find value on Twitter, but unless you define your strategy and understand where the people you hope to converse with hang out online, you won’t know what tools or technologies are right or not right for your organization.
  • Start small. Take on a pilot project. You don’t have to commit all of your marketing or PR budget to social media, but it is worth investigating. By starting with a small project, you minimize risk and begin to maximize opportunity.
  • There is more risk to ignoring what is happening online than there is in getting your feet wet.
  • Don’t wait until your company, organization or industry hits an issue or a crisis to turn to social media. You need to participate in the online community and connect with people to build credibility and trust.
  • View social media as a leadership opportunity. It provides you with the ability to showcase what you are doing to make your company, your organization, your industry or the world a better place. You can showcase your expertise, build credibility and build relationships with people.

Jeff Bullas has two blog posts that are relevant to the topic here. One is “28 Reasons Why the CEO is Afraid of Social Media” and the other is “9 Ways to Convince the CEO To Use Social Media and Enter the 21st Century.” Both are worth a read.

At AHA, we approach social media from a communicator’s perspective. When clients come to us with concerns, like the ones I listed above, we understand the fears and challenges they are facing. The world is changing quickly and we are in the middle of a huge shift in how companies and organizations connect with their stakeholders. There is always fear attached to change. That’s why we’re here. Understanding what is being said online, showcasing best practices, helping to define strategy and to identify the right tools is a part of what we bring to the table.

We don’t try to push clients into doing too much too soon. Culture change takes time; it is an evolution not a revolution. Step by step is the right approach in our eyes—one success at a time.

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