Ignoring Social Media Makes You Mute, Not Invisible

by on 08/04/2009 • 17 Comments | Social Media

social media fireI realized that a lot of yesterday’s post about being provocative really had to do with fear. It was about the actions companies take because they’re afraid of upsetting the status quo, they’re afraid to be different, and most of all, they’re afraid of being called out and attacked. And to lots of companies, that’s what social media is– taking your precious brand and throwing it to the wolves.

If there’s one thing I wish every company would realize, it’s this:

Brand and public relation disasters are not CAUSED by social media. Social media is what lets you SURVIVE them unscathed and better for the wear.

It’s amazing how your perspective changes based on which side of the table you’re sitting on. For consumers and social media fanatics, situations like what arose with United Airlines and Dominos Pizza are exciting. They represent a win because they’re the perfect exercise in David vs Goliath. But for brands, the mere thought of allowing what happened to Dominos to happen to them…well, screw that. Social media is dangerous. If you need them, they’ll be rocking back and forth under their desk where it’s safe.

But closing your eyes and ears does not make you safe. It makes you vulnerable.

I don’t think most brands want to hear this, but that myth that told you you’re “safe” if you don’t get involved? That no one will notice you if you stay out view and ignore the conversations happening around your brand? It’s bullshit.

Totally and completely bullshit.

The truth is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a big Fortune 500 or if you instead sell flowers in a small shop on Main Street. Your customers are still talking about you. The only thing avoiding social media does for you is it takes your voice entirely out of the conversation. It doesn’t make you invisible, it makes you mute.

Social media isn’t Twitter. It’s not blog posts. It’s not Facebook or MySpace or LinkedIn. Social media is your customers and your prospective customers. Social media is people. And I wish more companies got that.

Whatever fear is keeping you from talking to your customers and making your voice part of what’s happening – Get Over It . Your customers don’t care why you’re afraid. All they see is that you don’t want to talk to them.

Take the time to create your social media plan. Use it as a way to encourage engagement, to provide value, and to offer a safe outlet for disgruntled customers to contact you and vent frustrations. Because if they’re not venting to you, they’re going to vent somewhere else. And that’s how you become the next United Airlines. When your lack of listening and pretending you don’t see what’s going on in front of you forces customers to make you take notice.

I don’t know how to drive the point home to companies that social media isn’t the enemy, but I do know this. The best way to conquer your fear is to be pro-active. Don’t want to see your brand become the next negative viral sensation? Then do something about it. Create alliances with your customers now and invest in real friendships. Go out of your way for your customers and inspire them to go out of their way for you. Don’t waste time with fake relationships. Use social media to create real ones.

Whether or not you decide to enter your voice into the world of social media, your brand is already there and there’s no take backs. You can either take control or you can hide under your desk. However, the only way to be “safe” in social media is to be “in” social media.  Claim your voice.

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About the Author

Lisa Barone

Lisa Barone co-founded Outspoken Media in 2009 and served as Chief Branding Officer until April 2012.

Get social with Lisa at Twitter

17 thoughts on “Ignoring Social Media Makes You Mute, Not Invisible

  1. if you’re not engaging in social media because you’re worried people are saying bad thing about you, then you miss the point, they already are saying those things, you just aren’t listening.

  2. People are talking about you anyway. Get over your self doubt and start defending yourself and your actions. Social media provides the platform to do so (as do a variety of other mediums).

    You might get eviscerated at first…but people will come to empathize and see your point of view as time goes on. Companies not in the space? Grow some effin’ social balls.

  3. Lisa,
    Thank you for writing this post. It’s amazing to me that hundred billion dollar companies choose to purposefully avoid conversations on the web as has recently been the case for me with Verizon. They are perfectly willing to slap you around and waste your time when it’s just you and them in the conversation, but they won’t engage you when you take it to a social network where the public can witness the issue.

    Anyway, thanks for shining a light on this.

  4. Well stated! While I don’t think it’s necessary to respond to each and every comment (some battles can never be won), you should read each and every one and interact frequently. Brands forget that while social media is a set of tools, the tools are operated by actual humans with real opinions. You can make or break your brand with your response, or lack thereof, to customer feedback.

  5. Michael: Yes, agreed. But I do think a lot of companies feel like as long as they’re not *in* social media, they’re safe. Trouble is, they ARE in social media, they’re just ignoring it.

    Stuart: Haha, nice. I don’t think most companies even need to worry about being “eviscerated”. If you’re pro-active from the beginning, you’re going to be able to put those small fires out before they breed into a huge blaze. But point taken. :)

    Tim: It’s funny, I was already working on this post when you tweeted at me. And well played. ;)

  6. The boardroom talks about United Breaks Guitars. The management listens as the board members laugh and joke and off-handedly comment that it would suck to be managers at United. That whomever didn’t handle their “Social Media” well is probably looking for work right now, and that our own HR people should be extra careful screening candidates this month. Har har har…but the message is clear. If this company is going to do social media, whomever suggests it will be held responsible for any negative experiences (responsible, and mocked, and ridiculed, etc etc etc).

    So no one dares suggest it. No one wants to champion it in the corporate environment. It doesn’t get done until those sentiments change to a polar opposite – the board demanding to know why the management is so far behind on this Social Media thing.

    Same thing that happened with the web, and PPC, and SEO. In a corporate environment, you don’t get fired for not chasing the unknown, and you never champion a new idea unless you have board members backing you up.

  7. College and universities should take note. Their students (customers) are using social media and a lot of them are not engaging. They need to know what is being said about them and be responsive to the good and the bad. One institution in particular has been ripped by the media in the past few months and most of it started with the students who formed Facebook groups and blogged about it. The institution chose to ignore them until it was too late. Potential students will see that and may think twice about attending that school.

    Hiding under your desk, rocking back and forth in the fetal position does nothing but make you oblivious to what is being said. You can’t fix a problem that you don’t know about and, in this day and age, to stand there and say “but we didn’t know…” with a sad face and your hands up in the air is completely unacceptable.

  8. @Cassie,
    That’s a great point. I manage a Twitter account for a senior high school and find students mouthing off about the school on Twitter. By responding and engaging with them through the service you can get positive results.

    The management staff didn’t get Twitter to begin with but now they realise that it’s better to be involved than just let the conversation go on without you.

  9. Reluctance towards social media is less about the things you talk about and more about the innability of Social Media service companies to be able to present compelling strategics plans that communicate in terms that most big brands can understand, and more importantly, can justify to their managers.

  10. FAIL:

    Sitting on the sidelines while everyone around you rushes onto the Battlefield is completely inexcusable today. I was at a Social Media Breakfast on Monday with PRSarahEvans and Jason Kintzler of PitchEngine, focusing largely on PR.

    Many of the questions from the audience came from representatives of small and medium sized businesses — and the same refrain came up over and over:

    “How can we control negative publicity?”
    “Should we acknowledge negative commenters?”
    “When is it acceptable to delete unflattering comments from our blog?”

    The answer to these fears is consistent. Talk to people, share your perspective, learn about what people love AND hate about your brand. Address the negative vibes and work to fix them where you can.

    I think people fear Social Media because they are still focused on controlling the conversation, and while this may have been somewhat possible in the Old PR World, it’s not possible today. But it’s not possible for everyone, not just for you, so that levels the playing field. Responsiveness and customer service are new benchmarks for good PR (along with killer distribution…).

    …and one last thought: Since when is a negative comment here and there a BAD thing? When people form an opinion, positive or negative, it means they’re passionate enough about your brand to participate in the conversation about it.

  11. Lisa –
    Love the post and your approach. You’re absolutely right, yet I’m still finding social media to be difficult to sell to some clients. We’ve been able to point out all of the ways ignoring can hurt them, how their customers are already talking about them and how they are missing the opportunities to build relationships, but they can’t get past the potential security issues. Specifically if someone where to hack their profile and send out unauthorized messages or viruses. Any thoughts on that?
    Thanks,
    @alissasheley

  12. Beautifully said, Lisa. I think people need to understand that social media is like a hammer: it’s a tool, and whether or not it’s a ‘good thing’ (for creating things) or a ‘bad thing’ (to break things/injure people) just depends on how you use it.

    In ten years’ time, when social media is so in-grained in everyone’s way of life that we can’t imagine life without it (think mobile phones), we’ll look back and laugh that companies thought they could get away with not having their own SM presence.

  13. Could not agree more Lisa, this idea that ‘if we just sit here and do nothing we won’t get talked about’ is madness. Just recently we have helped 3 companies avoid some embarrassing customer service issues. It’s not that difficult is it, just talk to your customers… in any way you can.

    Great post by the way :)

  14. One piece I think is missing from most conversational marketing strategies is real change to the customer service that caused the issue. You have to be involved in the conversation if your brand comes under attack, but if you are not willing to make real change to the catalyst of the attack then you are really throwing a bottle of water at an inferno.

    A great example for me is @comcastcares. An epic fail and waste of time. They get involved in the conversation, but Comcast keeps the same sub par attitude towards customer service. This makes their social strategy seem empty and more of a farce than an action that benefits the consumer.

    A strong conversational marketing campaign should get the customer service component of an organization involved, as well as feed market research (in this case user sentiment) back to the appropriate channels for change.

  15. Companies cannot be scared to try things especially social media. Social media is where the search engines where in the late 90’s. Social media is not going away so it is important to be hitting it hard for every business.

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