Why Do Organizations Still Fear Social Media?


You don’t know what you don’t know

Before organizations can begin to think about having or being a social brand or a social business, they have to back up and temper their opinions or notions of what they think they know. Invariably what I see when I walk into the largest of the large or the smallest of small companies, are companies struggling with 2 schools of thought: (1) That they must corral the social employee and (2) How do they control the social customer. Usually they don’t know where to focus their efforts first.

This struggle is perpetuated by fear. Why? Companies fear what they can’t control. They fear an employee that waxes on about their company in a negative manner off hours on Twitter or Facebook, or they fear the customer that complains about their company or number (2a) they fear the competition doing more with social media than they are.

Let’s take social out of the equation and think about fear for a second and how it motivates companies. Better yet, let’s think about how fear motivates us. If we’re an athlete, we train or work out to get stronger and faster in fear that we might lose. If we work for someone, we work longer hours for fear of losing our jobs. In school we study harder in fear of getting bad grades. In the food service industry we deliver faster, fresher, food in fear of not getting customers or… the customer complaining.


Stronger. Faster. Longer. Harder. Superlatives motivate us.


In life, our fears motivate us into striving above and beyond what is expected. In business, specifically social media, our fear of it is motivated by the unexpected. What’s the difference? One spurs action and the other may spur inaction. But why can’t organizations just move forward with social media? Why can’t businesses just get it going?  Is it really fear? No, it’s not fear per se, it’s more about the unexpected or the unknown.

We know what the general expected outcomes are going to be if you or I work harder, or study longer or train harder. We win, we’re successful.  The problem with social media is that it’s still in the stage where the majority of business leaders still don’t know what A+B+C equals. It keeps changing, it keeps getting refined and redefined. They still can’t associate a bottom line, quantitative value to it. Qualitative yes, quantitative no. Essentially, companies are still struggling with what the value of a like is and are still trying to determine what the impact of the rogue social employee might be to an organizations bottom line.

Internally, companies can incrementally become a social business, which in and of itself may be the easiest jumping off point. Baby steps that can be controlled, if you will. They should be commended for becoming or attempting to become a social brand or business, replete with that level of uncertainty. It’s OK, uncertainty exists when  rolling out anything new, right?


What do companies that choose to wait and see do?


So what should these noobie freaked out, paranoid,  wannabe social companies do? It’s easy. Start with creating a basic set of easy to understand and comply with social media policies. Set the bar on what the expectations will be internally for your social employees both on the clock and off the clock. Create an internal accountability plan. From that, companies can start to build a base and a foundation to create baby step, measurable social initiatives.

Keep in mind that each “social” company will be different from the next. Until these companies have use cases that uniquely apply to each of them, every instance of anything internally social, will be a precedent of some sort. In other words, you will learn from your mistakes and you will build from that.

We’re a lot further along than we were say, 5 years ago, but the fact of the matter is that because of the amoebic like nature of the social web, we can’t with certainty, predict what the outcomes will be of even the best, most thought out, best funded, social initiatives. There is just not enough data yet. So is the fear well founded? Absolutely. Should it spur us into a state of inaction? Absolutely not.

Fear of Social Media

I worry about the expectations that some people have for social media success versus the actual results. In some cases, we the consultants and champions of social media are just as bad and as guilty as the snake oil salesmen in pumping up and promising instant, magical results from social media. It’s not fair but for some of us, we believe and we know.

Sadly though, the reality is that even in the five plus years I have been consulting and the three plus years that I have been writing this blog, disaster still lurks in parallel with success for all that utter the words, “I do social media”…

And that’s OK…

There are a lot of intangibles that can equally push the needle in either direction, but the fact is, that the number (of intangibles) that can affect success and failure, has exponentially grown in the past 2 years. Meaning it is easier to succeed in social media now than it was in 2008.  Yes but…

  • It’s also easy to think you know what results you want from social media
  • It’s easy to set up a Twitter and Facebook account and think that you’re doing social media
  • It’s easy to compare your brand to another unrealistically
  • It’s easy to measure the wrong thing
  • It’s easier to be sucked in to the mystique and the aura of numbers
  • It’s easier to be duped by numbers
  • It’s easier to trust the wrong person
  • It’s easier to fail and
  • It’s easier to think that social media just doesn’t work because you fail

After reading that bullet list, I’d be scared to do anything too! Take solace though in this- Some of the best companies fail and will fail at social media, and even more-so, some of the biggest and best brands as well will do nothing with social media out of that fear of failing or notion that  social media doesn’t work.

So which company would you like to be?

Temper your expectations, temper your fear, do your homework, align yourself and your company with the right people and the right vendors and push on with your social media initiatives. It’s worth it. Does this mean that you won’t fail? No, but from every failure, you learn-Here’s a quick analogy: Baseball players fail 7 out of 10 times when batting and get paid millions to do it…and they practice hitting every day. Every day.

Remember being scared about learning to ride your bike without any training wheels? What did you do?  What will you do now?