Social Media – What are you saying?

Recently, I spoke with someone who wanted a Facebook like button on their company page. While there’s no technical issue there, there is a bit of a conceptual gap. Her business was a very narrow, technical firm which is likely to handle less than 20 clients a month. What relationship are they hoping to have with their customers through Facebook?

It’s not meant to pick on her specifically, but rather to ask a legitimate question: are you using social media as a tool, or fighting what it represents?

Fundamentally, Facebook still hasn’t grown out of its roots– college kids poking each other and playing games. Yeah, the games are more elaborate now, and generating $9 billion market cap, but it’s still very much a personal, and an individual-to-individual environment. There’s a strong back-and-forth mentality. In most cases, a company is still an outsider– primarily having a page to push messages out to their ‘friends’, rather than having a conversation. Some firms actually do better– soliciting real discussions and forming a conversation with their staff- but if you aren’t going to use it except as a megaphone, you’re not really embracing the spirit of the medium.

In addition, there’s the overall feeling that your social media choice entails. Each of the major social networks still standing has attempted to establish a flavour– MySpace remains focused on entertainment and music, LinkedIn is about business, LiveJournal focused on privacy and being a closed network of friends sharing diaries, and Facebook turned into connecting with old friends and family. For her environment, LinkedIn may be a more sensible place to focus her profile– it wouldbe a good way to connect with potential employees, and it establishes an atmosphere of professionalism you simply don’t see in a network where half the messages are about imaginary livestock.

Finally, are you building a shell of a page, or do you have a content vision? We did this before in 1996. Yes, you have a website social network page. But does it say anything new and useful not seen on the Yellow Pages ad website? A well-maintained social network presence can be an excellent way to monitor customer feelings, or a means to deliver exclusive discounts (and thus force the almighty “Like” to get in on them), but nothing looks deader than an empty page. There may be some minor reputation-control benefits by having Brand X’s Facebook page show up when you search for Brand X, instead of an angry customer review, but if the page offers customers no value, they’ll keep going and find the bad review anyway, or worse, conclude you’re out of business.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to be an active participant in the social media blitz, as long as you can successfully explain why you’re there and what you’re doing. In a way, that’s probably good practice for any business operations.