For some reason, “social media” seems to be percolating into the mindset of my province’s business and organizational community these days.
By “social media” I’m referring to things like Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Youtube and generally any other Internet-based tool that allows you to communicate with other people via your computer, smart phone, latest i-gadget, etc.
I’ve had more discussions about the pros and cons of social media over the past six months than probably all other areas of business and organizational life combined. In fact, I will be on a panel at the 2011 QNET Excellence Conference sharing my perspective on, yup, you guessed it…social media. (PS Mitch Joel, Canada’s own social media guru, is the keynote speaker for the conference so it should be very interesting and enlightening. If you’re in Winnipeg, make sure you go!)
Let’s explore this hot topic from a strategic perspective…
When it comes to social media, it seems to me that individuals generally fall into two camps. The first group dislikes/mistrusts/fears social media and/or sees it as completely useless. The second group includes those who love it, live it and even evangelize it. My take is that both camps are part right, and both are also partly wrong.
I’ve come to realize in my own work that social media is a valuable set of tools for businesses and organizations (hence this new blog). I’ve also come to believe that social media, while game-changing in many ways, are simply the latest in the evolution of tools that allow people to connect with one another (i.e. it’s networking, just through a different channel).
A Message to the Skeptics…
If you’re one of those people who fall in the first group – those who dislike or remain skeptical about social media, my advice is that you shouldn’t limit your view of social media based only on how your teenage kids use it (or your friends who still act like teenagers for that matter).
Let’s face it, teenagers goals, needs and priorities are very different from yours. The fact that they use Facebook to loiter around with their friends shouldn’t taint your judgment. And just because their Tweets are mainly updates on where they are in the shopping mall doesn’t mean Twitter is for nothing other than mind-numbing updates. When we were teenagers we spent A LOT of time loitering and talking about nothing with our friends too. The only difference is that we didn’t say things like “OMG ur tweet made me lmao”.
Now that you and I are grown up and managing businesses or teams, our approach to things like social media has to match our goals, needs and priorities. And we need to view these new tools as valuable additions to our communications strategy.
Social Media Evangelists Beware too…
For those in the other camp – the ones who think social media is the new wave that makes all other media obsolete, I have news for you too. While you’re busy trying to get everyone and their dog to “friend” you on Facebook, “follow you” on Twitter, or “like” you on LinkedIn, most of the decision makers who ultimately sign the checks don’t spend a lot of their waking hours online (yet).
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that the Internet community isn’t growing exponentially everyday (it is). It’s just that if you want to be successful, you have to go where your “right buyer” is. And for many businesses and organizations, that “right buyer” is still the over 40 crowd and many of them are not spending a lot of time watching for your latest Tweet.
A Balanced, Strategic View of Social Media for your organization…
It comes down to this – if (when!) you’re going to add social media to your business/organization’s communication mix, do it purposefully. In other words, be strategic about it. Start with a clear understanding of how social media can help you move your mission/purpose and strategic priorities forward. (Don’t have a clear sense of your mission/purpose and strategic goals/priorities? We can help.) Once you’re clear on your mission/purpose and goals/priorities then you’ll be in a much better position to figure who you need to connect with and which social media tools can best help you do that. (After all, it’s not just about Facebook and Twitter. There are many other social media tools to consider, and for many organizations tools like Youtube and blogs may be a more beneficial investment of your time).
Just as a final caution however, don’t wait until you have a “perfect” strategy lined up. There’s no such thing. Despite what you may have been led to believe, strategy is all about action. In real life, you usually have to dive in at some point and learn as you go. My advice to you is to invest time and energy into figuring out how you should be participating online and then get moving.
The bad news is that you will make mistakes. I know I’m making a few (ex. not enough graphics in my blog, Linkedin profile not completed yet, etc. etc). The good news is that you’ll figure it out and you can learn as you go, and bonus, you will likely be viewed as a leader for making the attempt.
I recently did a short (6 slides) presentation for a group of Winnipeg entrepreneurs entitled Social Media Strategy – A Few Considerations. Slide #4 contains some questions that I’ve found helpful. Here’s a link to the presentation if you’re interested… http://www.winnipegentrepreneurs.com/pdf/presentations/02222011-Social-Media-for-Biz.pdf
If you’re looking for a fantastic and very comprehensive book about social media, make sure you get a copy of Mitch Joel’s book Six Pixels of Separation. Although Mitch leans towards the social media evangelist camp, he definitely “gets it” and his approach is wonderfully strategic (i.e. purposeful). I still consider myself a newbie at this, but Mitch’s ideas have become a central part of my approach to social media and Internet-based communications.
Finally, here’s a practical takeaway…
Google your personal name and your company’s name. What comes up? If you don’t see anything about yourself or your business, none of the other billions of people online will see it either. Not only that but you’re being crowded out and someone else with the same name as you or your business name is staking out your space online. This was a revelation for me when I first tried it and noticed that there are many different Mike Fernandes’ in the world (and many of them aren’t very nice).
Here’s some more good news, as I’ve started to develop and use a few of the more popular social media tools, I’ve experienced the added bonus of seeing my messages and online profile makes its way higher up in the search engines. The best part is that I don’t advertise at all, I just go about my regular business, but now I use the social media and online channels in addition to my real life networking and email-based communications (less paper too!). This may not seem like much but I am a small business owner too and making people aware of who I am and what I can offer them is essential.
So please go ahead and “friend” me, “follow” me and “like” me wherever you find me online
About Mike Fernandes, StrategyMakers
Building on a 18 year career, most of it in a senior management role, I now work with a growing list of organizations, entrepreneurs/small business owners, and public sector agencies to help them apply a focused and strategic approach to a wide range of activities and opportunities. My educational background includes an MBA from Manitoba’s Asper School of Business as well as an undergraduate degree in Economics and Environmental Studies from the University of Winnipeg. I also enjoy volunteering in various community organizations, coach local youth sports whenever I can, and share my experience through a number of youth leadership and entrepreneurship coaching programs.
Visit the StrategyMakers website here.