Many companies are trying to figure out how to use social media effectively, and hordes of social media thinkers are eager to help (from those worth your time to the snake-oil salesmen). A quick Google search for social media success yields more than 500,000 hits as of this writing, with the top results mostly of the “Five easy steps” variety.
While simple recipes can offer some good advice, as many of these do, they can do a disservice to businesses by creating the illusion that (a) it’s simple to succeed with social media, and (b) there’s a one-size-fits-all solution.
Dorothy’s quest in Oz provides a pretty decent analogy. The recipe was simple for her: follow the yellow-brick road to The Emerald City. Seems easy enough, right? Until you realize there are haunted forests on the road. And monkeys. Don’t forget the flying monkeys.
The social media yellow-brick road
There are plenty of potholes in the social media road, lots of skidmarks, and a few smoldering wrecks. Many have already offered thoughtful examples of why companies have a hard time getting down this road:
- They don’t even want to be on it (i.e., social media isn’t seen as relevant)
- They get social media on some level, but fear stops them from engaging or they’re in one of the early stages of social media grief
- They engage but fail, either through basic misunderstandings and company culture misfit, miscellaneous mistakes, or by committing overt social media blunders that lead to firestorms of criticism, apologies and backpedaling
Beyond all of these failings and flaws, I’ve seen a few more twists in the road that can lead companies astray (or keep them off it completely):
1. Limited resources keep focus away from social media
Given limited resources and budgets, companies tend to focus on their burning problems, rather than on the strategic things they can do to be more successful. Social media is often not perceived as being urgent (and in some cases, it may not be).
2. Cost and organizational implications limit efforts
Getting an empowered company evangelist onto Twitter is one thing. Migrating an old company web site onto a CMS that supports user-generated content and comments can run from difficult to impossible. Sometimes companies feel like they have to do it all, or become paralyzed with indecision, and so they do nothing (or very little).
3. The landscape changes faster than companies can
Companies are willing to put effort into it, but they don’t want to waste time and effort on things they worry might disappear in six months. As a result, many large companies are waiting to see what happens (or waiting for others to fail first).
Create your own Emerald City
If you add up all of these lists of failings and challenges and things companies must do to succeed, suddenly the simple recipe has become more like one from the French Laundry cookbook. Social media success isn’t an easily-defined place like The Emerald City, and there’s no single, easy road to get there (no shortcuts and no overnight successes, either).
Dorothy succeeded in her quest through determination and friendship, making mistakes along the way, and staying true to who she was. Companies should do the same: give up on magic formulas. Just be engaged and follow some yellow-brick road, and enjoy all its potholes, prizes, and flying monkeys.
If you’ve got experiences to share from your trip down the social media road, I’d love to hear them.