The Social Media Rules Are A-Changin'
While social media has attracted tremendous attention, it has made few agencies - and only a small handful of people - any money. Why? Because the current rules of social engagement are completely unrealistic for corporate America.
Should Mark Parker of Nike be expected to engage in a two-way dialog regarding every comment or complaint about their product, as consumers have come to demand on Twitter, MySpace, and other social media networks? No. For social media to work, the rules of the game need to change.
I am, in fact, a CEO who is active on Twitter, yet I can proclaim firsthand that it is simply not practical for me to have an ongoing dialogue with any of my followers. As the owner of the nation's 21st-largest PR firm, I can't converse with my 85 employees every day, let alone interact with non-employees on Twitter. What I can do is provide insight into what I am an expert at - the business of communications. Facebook pages, Twitter, and all of the rest are simply additional tools for people to communicate. But the successful (and particularly the uber-successful CEOs) don't have time to communicate with their whole audiences in an ongoing two-way social media dialogue. When Twitter launched in March of 2006, it made sense for Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, to devote so much personal time and effort building his following. He effectively positioned himself and his business as trailblazers in the social media space, and he's often the first name raised when someone asks, "What companies are properly employing social media?" For Hsieh, the business of being social has equaled good business, but for countless other CEOs, the lack of a tangible return on investment and the sheer number of hours required to run a company make it a non-starter.
So how do CEOs and social media coexist? Through the evolution of current operating standards. When launched, Twitter was hailed as a microblogging site, a way in which individuals and/or thought leaders could share information with their followers, as opposed to the way in which it is mainly used today, as an instant-messaging service.
Twitter is not AIM or Gchat. It falls into an undefined realm between social and broadcast media.
And just as some bloggers choose to produce content with little or no interaction with their readership while others reply to every comment posted, two acceptable methods of utilizing social media can exist. It's conversational engagement versus one-way content sharing, and CEOs must decide how to strike the proper balance between what is best for their brand and what is best for the bottom line.
By treating social media as a one-way content-sharing resource, CEOs are able to utilize spokespeople as buffers between them and the public, ensuring that messaging is in the best interest of the brand, no differently than when a press release quote is written on their behalf.
Brands have heard the public's cries for interaction and relationship, but in order to accommodate those requests, the public will have to manage its expectations as to how these brands will accomplish that feat and become social organizations. Asking an individual who manages a company, a near-impossible task on its own, to simultaneously maintain an ongoing and open dialogue, is not only an unreasonable request, it is completely contrary to the role of CEO.
In order to capitalize on the waiting audience and monetize these platforms, focus will shift from the "etiquette" of social media, to the "business" of social media. When brands start to see social media ROI, it will be because they are actively changing the rules, not adhering to the standards retroactively set by bloggers and users.