Social media confusion
Entrepreneurs love new technology and are early adapters, buying it, trialing it and talking about it. But social networking is proving to be a big challenge.
In fact, for many companies that have dipped more than one toe in the water, it is proving disruptive and chaotic. And it struck me why as I was researching the Smart 50 (winners announced next week.)
We asked these fast growing companies how they were using social networking. Most at present are using it to do existing tasks more cheaply and efficiently. They are using it to post special discount offers, broadcast news or send information to employees, recruit staff and so on.
For most it is working in this limited capacity. It is also causing frustration. Entrepreneurs are confused about the cost of exploring these ideas and the return on investment. They don't know who to turn to help. Who are the new social media experts who can help a company plan its strategy? They are nervous about "out of control" conversations that might damage the brand. The structures to direct traffic from comments back to the complaints section and into the hands of the brand/reputation managers are not set up. Nor have structures been set up to capture information and leads from the social networking. And besides, isn't such callous behaviour contradictory to the very essence of networking?
So I suspect the next phase in the evolution of social networking is some bad press from grumpy managers. But this confusion is no surprise given the massive disruption that the new social media tools have caused to many business functions including traditional media and advertising.
What we all need to realise is it is still very early days. Just take the Smart 50. Two years ago the Smart 50 were barely doing any social media. Now more than half are using it to enhance basic marketing and PR functions.
The next step will be the rise of a dedicated social media manager (has any company got one of those yet?) within organisations to push existing departments - including R&D, recruitment, PR and advertising - to exploit all the possibilities. Some companies will then restructure to put social marketing at the heart of their businesses.
And the best part of this particular business revolution? Small companies can play, experiment and participate at very little cost and can quickly know what works for them. As new technology evolves, these early adapters will gain a huge advantage.