While having lunch with the awesome Gene Powell of Spoke, we started talking about another conversation he had about person_questionthe purpose of social media for business.  Was it the new savior to replace the clueless, traditional marketing bunch?  Another dotcom bubble getting ready to burst?  Fad?  Necessity?  Should every business be involved with social media?

To answer these questions, we should back up and answer the main question – What is social media?  Answering this question will help get rid of expectations based on misconceptions on what it is and can do for a business.  First, let’s disseminate with the semi-formal definition that is found on Wikipedia:

Social media are media designed to be disseminated through social interaction, using highly accessible and scalable publishing techniques.

Those “publishing techniques” take the form of blogs, tweets, bookmarks and other social networks that enable social interaction via online platforms.  The key here is “social interaction”.  How good is your company at social interaction?

I simply like to call social media a communication tool.  So social media’s effectiveness is based only on how well you communicate.  Does your corporate communication strategy evolve from the legal department, carefully structured in safe product-based topics, pre-tested to not offend anyone?  Your communication may not come across as authentic.  And may even push your audience away with your salesy, pre-scripted message. A corporate cultural shift might be necessary to engage in the new rules of marketing as dictated by social media.

What characteristics should your corporate culture include if they want to engage in social media?

Authenticity – Don’t be gimmicky; be real.  Let your hair down a little.  People want to connect with the real you, not the scripted, suited and staged you.

Sharing – Not just about your business, products and services.  Share ideas, fan’s news/blog/etc about your product

Active listening – How will you know what your audience cares about, what they are saying about your brand or what they want you to answer if you don’t listen AND address their concerns?

Transparency – People already know that the nice, neat, slick sales piece is a production.  Give them a little peek at the innards of your business and see loyalty grow stronger (assuming your business is not a seedy, scheming operation in the shadows).

person_talkingUntil there is a real strong push within a business to change the protective culture that exists within, social media may not have the same success for your businesses as it did for others.  So the answer to the all-important question – “Should my business be involved with social media?” is answered by asking another question.  Does your business have or can it make the cultural communication shift to engage your audience within the rules dictated by social media?  Or more simply, can your business interact socially?  You can’t “fake it ’til you make” it, and your social media success depends on it.

Your turn:  What other characteristics should a company’s culture include if they want to engage in social media?