A few weeks back, this blog explored why this generation of smaller businesses were unlikely to embrace social networking.
Mirroring their glacier-speed adoption of websites, Australian small businesses with a social networking presence are well in the minority.
Depending on whose report you read, less than a third of smaller businesses have a presence in what is the biggest communications revolution since the internet itself, now nearly a decade after its introduction.
This week I’d like to look at a more fundamental attribute of the medium itself to explain the reticence of smaller business to get into social networking.
New tricks for old dogs
For most people who are at an age to run a business, or at least its marketing strategy, social networking is not only a new communications medium, but one that is unlike anything before it.
Because most other revolutionary communications media had a precedent – a communications method that was improved upon significantly – in some cases creating a new business model to go with it.
Whilst telephones made it possible to reduce or even extinguish distance between two participants, its fundamental purpose, conversation, had been occurring since the dawn of language.
Facsimile was an electronically transmitted version of the letter or mailed document and in turn email a considerable improvement again (particularly its affordability).
Despite what many may say, most websites are essentially brochures on steroids and web-conferencing a virtual extension of ordinary meetings.
A brand new way of communicating
But as pointed out in this blog before, social networking is a ‘new to the world’ phenomenon.
Never before has an individual or business been able to broadcast a conversation to many simultaneously and in turn have that broadcast to connections of the person in the conversation.
Broadcast email came close, but it was still a relatively controlled private group of recipients compared to the pretty much public stage that is social networking.
Whilst to some degree it can be compared to a 24/7 electronic ‘party’ attended by all your friends (some of whom you haven’t seen since childhood), what makes it completely revolutionary is that unlike conversations at parties, every single person at that party can hear and participate in the dialogue.
What’s more, attendees can invite their own parties to join in on the conversation, and so on, making it one massive online party to end all parties.
Unprecedented word-of-mouth effects
If your conversation or comment, picture or video is interesting enough, you can soon find yourself with an audience literally numbering millions. And when I say soon, I mean lightning speed soon.
Now to some that prospect is like viral manna from heaven, but to many smaller business operators already struggling to eke more time or resource to keep their businesses afloat, it’s the last thing they need to deal with right now.
I mean, who wants to run the risk of inadvertently posting or saying the wrong thing and suddenly being the butt of a viral campaign of mass ridicule?
Because in the same way your positive, promotional post can be viralled to millions in no time at all, so can your potentially innocent but damaging post.
This effect is traumatic enough to an individual, but to a business, revenues, reputations and livelihoods are literally at stake.
Undoing the undoable
Then there is the additional time (read ‘money’) required to deal with the issue – either by trying to steer the conversation back on track – if that’s possible, or trying to have the offending material removed via official channels.
I should know. Recently I spent three hours intervening in an innocent post gone wrong. Even then, how many weren’t able to follow the conversation and my clarifications and simply discredited me – and told their friends as much!
I’ll never get that three hours back and nor will I hope to get the business of those who misunderstood what I posted.
And how much time and money did one sports club (also a small business) recently spend trying to stem the irretrievable damage caused by a spurned schoolgirl who got her fingers on some compromising photos of its players?
That prospect is real and is quite frightening to an already overwhelmed smaller business operator.
Exercising due caution
This ‘warts and all’ new way of communicating may well be second nature to those young enough to be brought up with the medium, but to the rest of us it’s still very new and very confronting.
It explains why smaller businesses are being extra cautious in embracing what to them is literally a brave new world.
Not only are they being asked to invest in a new communications medium but one where the rules of engagement are unlike anything they’ve ever encountered before.
No wonder they are taking their time.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team, which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.