The dilemma of social media

David Esrati at the Next Wave is a big proponent of companies’ participating actively in social media — having blogs on their websites, for example, as a way of increasing their site content and therefore the value of their site, and the amount of traffic the site brings in. Here are some excerpts from a comment I wrote in response to one of David’s recent posts — my concern is the difficulty of knowing how to get a client involved in social media — when they may not even have a website yet.

These are difficult times we live in.
And I’m not talking about the threat of terrorism. I’m talking about the fact that there are multiple levels of knowledge and competence existent right now regarding website creation and maintenance.
You’ve got your businesses – some mom-and-pops, some multimillion dollar companies – who don’t have websites and don’t see a need to.
You’ve got your businesses that DO have websites — but ones that look like they were built in 1995. That perhaps were built in 1995, and haven’t changed since.
Then you’ve got your uber-professional websites. These may have a gorgeous look and feel – contain tens or hundreds of pages – and be built with the most sophisticated code yet typed out by a geek. Yet they may still suck, we know now, in terms of searchability – if they’re not dynamic (that is, having their content regularly updated) and if they don’t actively engage customers in conversations (i.e., provide customers some sort of participative venue, such as a place to blog or a place to write product reviews).
As communicators, creatives, and marketing types, how do we know where to wade into this mess? How do we effectively talk to customers whose knowledge ranges from a ton to none? How do we help individuals with nary a website understand that (a) they gotta get one, (b) they’ve got to disregard the little that they THOUGHT they knew about what a website should look like, and (c) they’ve got to jump over traditional websites and dive feet first into the world of Web 2.0?
I know we can’t start by scorning individuals or companies who haven’t fully incorporated social media into their communications strategy. Let’s face it – few have. (Even the biggies, like Coke.) And effectively telling folks that they’re clueless because they don’t have a cutting-edge website – I would argue – just makes them more resistant to building one.
Which is unfortunate. Because social media is real. And companies need, rather desperately, to know how to respond to it, and create websites that TAKE ADVANTAGE of social media rather than being crushed by it. Companies need know how to create interact websites, rather than static ones. How to engage in conversations with their customers, rather than letting customers dish them left and right.
The world of user-generated content – and that includes everything from people writing blogs and wikis, joining social networking sites, or posting photos or videos to Flickr and YouTube ain’t going away. In fact, all evidence shows that social media usage is increasing – rapidly – across all age groups and both genders. (See http://www.boozallen.com/capabilities/Industries/industries_article/26060199?lpid=660614, for example.)

If it was ever unclear before, it’s crystal clear now that social media indeed can’t be ignored. Companies – and ad agencies, PR firms, and corporate communicators – who do so, do so at their own peril.


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