Social Media Truisms – Someone else can do it for you

Posted by: in Social Media Insights & Trends on July 26, 2010

Social media in the enterprise is still in its infancy. As with any significant change in the way business is done, it’s filled with brilliance, innovation, exploration and “next practices.” But it’s also filled with red herrings, misunderstood causes and correlations, and snake oil salesmen. In this series, I’m taking a look at a series of social media “truisms” – the conventional wisdom of the day – and asking some questions about how universally true they really are.

Thanks for joining us previously as we explored truisms numbers one, two and three: The ChampionThe Strategy. and The “Me Too.” Today we’ll look at truism number four: The “Someone else can do it for you”

“For hire: Social Media intern to man twitter and facebook accounts.  Unpaid.”

Two years ago, it was pretty cool for a company to have a twitter account.  When Naimul, Chris and I introduced Humana’s first social media properties, we definitely thought that we were livin’ on the edge (cue Aerosmith music).  But these days, what company doesn’t have a twitter account and a facebook page?  Even the stodgiest of companies is recognizing that there’s not much danger in tweeting out your press releases to the waiting world.  And most of the time, there’s an intern or PR agency cranking them out on behalf of the company.  And that’s a way to go, for sure.  As we examined in Monday’s “Me Too” post, there’s value in achieving parity … but there’s a lot MORE value in achieving parity if you’re doing it as a small step on the way to something else.

Last week Frank Eliason announced that he was leaving Comcast Cable, the company that he helped transform from a customer service mockery to a revered business case study.  For those of you who don’t know the story, I’ll give you the nutshell version here (you should really read Shel Israel’s Twitterville or Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s Trust Agents to get the whole thing; they’re fun to read and full of great ideas).  It started with a YouTube video of a ComCast repairman who had fallen asleep on the couch of a customer.  Got a gajillion views, and exposed what the world already knew: Comcast’s had lousy customer service.  The social web was loaded with rants about the company – a search on google or twitter would generate hundreds (or even thousands) of customer complaints.  Enter customer service rep Frank.  He started a twitter account called ComcastCares, and started responded to them.  One by one.  And fixing customers’ problems.  The customers noticed, and started talking about it.  Next thing you know, Frank’s build a team of agents responding to service requests on the internet, and Comcast was the darling of the customer service world.

Did you miss the part about how Frank did that by tweeting out links to press releases?  [Tricked you! He didn’t.]

There’s truly nothing wrong with tweeting press releases.  But couldn’t you do a little more?  How about going out to find people to follow who might be interested in your products?  How about listening to what kind of things they’re talking about – and who they’re talking to?  If you’re not prohibited from doing so (some industries have some pretty serious regulations governing their marketing activities), you might even reply to them.  When they ask a question (FYI: People ask a LOT of questions in social media; check out Yahoo Answers, Mahalo or LinkedIn Answers if you don’t believe me) that you know the answer to, maybe you could help them out by responding.  If there are people who write about your company or your industry, are you reading their news sites or blogs?  Commenting on them?  How about feeding them content that might be useful to them in their work – even if it doesn’t directly reference your company?

These are things that aren’t terribly difficult or risky to do – but they’re probably not do-able by an intern.  And if you have an unqualified person out there representing your brand, your risk does increase – perhaps exponentially.  I’m not pushing you to get out there and do something you’re uncomfortable with … not everyone is really that into geeking out with customers online.  But it doesn’t have to be you!  I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there was someone in your sales and/or marketing and/or service and/or product development team that would LOVE to geek out with customers.  At my old company, Humana, we did a mini-survey on the intranet and found out that a) over 1,500 employees were professed bloggers and b) more than 10% of them were blogging about health or healthcare.  [Hmmmm!] If you can find a way to tap into that passion, you have a real chance to elevate the way your brand in the eyes of the people who care about it (or even better, the people who DON’T care about it today).

If you’re going to stick with (or get into) the press release tweeting business, feel free to grab an intern.  But if you’re ready to move to the next level, my advice to you is:

1. Talk to a pro who’ll help you get started (DISCLOSURE.  YOU PROBABLY FIGURED THIS OUT ALREADY, BUT MY COMPANY AND I GET PAID TO DO THAT)

2. Find a way to tap into your existing employee base to see whether you have any Franks hidden away – I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you did.

Has this worked for you?  Has it failed?  Do you have questions about how to make it work in reality?  What did I say in this post that was both dead wrong and stupid?  The comments belong to you – I’d love to hear from you.

And don’t forget to tune in next time for Trusim #5: “Regulated Industries Can’t Do Social”

To learn more about the inspiration for this series, check out the case study on Humana’s successful social media model, “The Town Square ” or this webinar from the RacePoint Group on Organizing for Social Media – where I was honored to present alongside Larry Weber and Steven Goldbach of the Monitor Group.

Intern Photo by adpowers

By: Greg Matthews

Greg Matthews is the the creator and Managing Director of the W2O Group's MDigitalLife - Understanding, Engaging and Activating Physicians in the Digital Age

Find me on: Twitter
Pre-Commerce Check out W2O Group President Bob Pearson's new book, Pre-Commerce, in which he shares ideas for leaders to engage directly with customers to shape their brand and marketplace success. Now available for order on Amazon.com! http://amzn.to/bAmvFN. Join the conversation #precommerce.

8 Responses

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  1. DrV said

    Endemic in hospital marketing is the use of the Tw press release. Or as I sometimes call it, the Twitter veneer (‘yea, we’re on Twitter’). The presence of tools doesn’t imply that there’s been the underlying cultural/behavioral shift to make it effective. But as more hospitals/orgs experiment the ‘mistake’ of true connection is becoming the stuff of case studies. We’ll get there.

  2. I think we will too, Doctor_V. I do think that “Twess Releases” (Twess Weweases? Sounds like Elmer Fudd) are better than nothing at all … but you’re sure right about the cultural shift necessary. I love it when healthcare brands are taking the next steps too – and starting to sound like people rather than headlines. Case in point: El Camino Hospital is making their facebook page updates in a very human voice – which I love.
    Thanks for being here – and for being a “real person.” I followed a whole new group of docs on twitter last week – that in itself seems to be a good sign.

  3. Greg – I like your “truisms” series a lot, and this post in particular. You hit on a very important point and that is that it can be risky outsourcing your company’s voice to either a VERY junior level person (the intern) or to a PR company. Realistically, a company wouldn’t put an intern on the phones to handle customer service issues. They also wouldn’t put an intern in front of the traditional media or let an intern run marketing for them. So why put them in one of the most visible (and Google-able) places on earth i.e. Twitter or Facebook.

    Obviously both you and I work for agencies that help companies with their social efforts but I’m guessing we both agree, that we’re better off helping our clients lay out a strategy, set up listening posts, understand how to respond to customers and prospects, etc. At the end of the day, however, it is vital for companies to have their own dedicated resources (just like the team you led at Humana) that focus on engaging customers and providing a voice for the brand.

    Looking forward to your next installment!

  4. Aaron: I too loved the exchange we had with Techguerilla around this concept … and his perspective has merit. No question, communications professionals can add value to the equation from end-to-end. But without real engagement from/by the brand (or perhaps more accurately, from the people employed by the brand), effectiveness will likely be limited. Thanks for reading, commenting and sharing – much appreciated!

  5. Per our Twitter conversation with Matt at Techguerilla, I just added a follow on comment on his blogpost: http://bit.ly/9vfPz3

  6. Such a dead-on post.

    A couple of years ago one of my past clients, a medical technology company, was ready to take some tentative social media steps.

    I explained to the CEO and his senior team some of the strategies and tactics they could pursue to find and connect with their target audience in the social space.

    “Hold on a sec,” said the CEO. “Can’t you and your agency do this for us?”

    I explained that we could, theoretically, do it for them, but that it would be more authentic, and of greater value to potential customers, if the effort came from within the company. (Not to mention more cost-effective!)

    “Surely some of your knowledgeable PhDs are already participating in industry discussion groups and web forums, no?” I ventured.

    That indeed turned out to be the case. All that was needed was some guidance, a bit of training in best practices (add value above all; keep the sales pitches to an absolute minimum; be relevant; etc.), and, importantly, a blessing from management that it was okay for these engineers to be the face of the company.

  7. That’s fantastic – thanks for sharing, Mark! [BTW, sorry it’s me so long to respond – in the middle of a move to Austin!]. I think that companies are always surprised at how many of their employees are “out there” – and would probably love to be brand evangelists and customer support-folks if they were just given the tools and permissions to do so. I’m tired of hearing people say things like, “but then we’ll lose control of the message!” Control of the message was gone long ago!

  8. Twitter makes connecting with people so easy and the stakes really aren’t that high when employees are on point with the basic message and are allowed to be themselves to find and help others others online.

    We have had countless conversations about companies finding comfort in allowing every employee (who cares to) to represent the brand. Harnessing that kind of collective conversation power would be amazing for large organizations.

    And to Aaron’s point, that’s really where the Agencies come into play. There is a big need for implementation instruction (shying away from the word strategy because somebody ruined that word for me 😉 ) and oversight.

    Rock on, Greg. 🙂

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