Blogs, Twitter, Facebook -- does it have a place in your life, let alone your business? A lot of managers are reluctant to dip their toes in the pond that's collectively known as social media. Fortunately, we have a sister publication -- BtoB -- that is focused specifically on business-to-business marketing. In the past few weeks, contributor Paul Gillin has written two columns on social media that help put it into perspective for a business audience: "Metrics, ROI of social media still unclear," and "When to avoid social media." Gillin notes that top executives are still skeptical about social media -- but perhaps not in the way that you'd expect. The problem is that social media is so cheap, but results are so difficult to measure, that they can't get a hold on just what sort of return they get on their efforts.
Blogs can be launched for little more than the time required for employees to fill them, and so-called "white box" social network suppliers rent their services for as little as a couple of hundred dollars a month. As a result, 63% of "best-in-class" companies plan to increase their social media marketing budgets this year, according to Aberdeen Group. EMarketer estimates that worldwide social network advertising will increase to $2.3 billion this year, up about 15% from 2008. In the U.S., the growth rate will be a more modest 10%.But social media isn't for everyone. What sorts of companies shouldn't use it? Here's Gillin's list:
You're in a high-ticket business. If you can count your customers on your fingers and toes, and if those customers spend tens of millions of dollars with you each year, you're probably better off using the phone, the golf course and the dinner table to deliver your message. This also goes for financial services firms with wealthy customers who prefer to keep their activities--and that of their financial advisers-- private. You fight with your employees. I recently consulted for a client in the heavy equipment industry. More than 80% of its work force is unionized, and management-labor strife is a constant. This is not an environment for encouraging direct interactions between employees and customers. While opening up the lines of communication may work in industries with a motivated and highly technical work force, it's a potential disaster if employees use that channel to trash management. Management skepticism. In a recent study of 50 early adopters of Web 2.0 technology, McKinsey & Co. concluded that the key characteristic of successful organizations was high-level support. Social media strategies demand transparency, and employees accustomed to years of careful message filtering are understandably suspicious of being asked to speak openly. If management doesn't encourage and reward participation, the initiative will fail. Strategic vacuum. One of the most common mistakes marketers make is to launch a social media campaign without having any idea what they're trying to accomplish. Very often this approach is driven by fascination with a tool, but tools are no good unless you know what to do with them. If you don't have an objective, then you don't know what to measure, which means you have no way to determine success. Your social media project will be cut in the next round of belt-tightening. And an objective shouldn't be to launch a product or distribute a press release. If you do it right, conversations should continue for years. Privacy and regulatory concerns. While a few health care companies have started blogs and social networks, most are proceeding with justifiable caution. If you're in an industry where people can go to jail for what they say in public, you should be careful. Much as I hate to say it, you should probably get the lawyers closely involved.Gillin has some helpful comments on Twitter, the social media that seems to be exploding, despite being the focus of jokes and ridicule. He calls it an "easy way to drive traffic," and notes: "Marketers have learned that Twitter is a fast way to disseminate a message to thousands of followers and others who bestow the coveted "retweet." Estimated membership grew an eye-popping 1,400% in the year ended in February, according to Nielsen Co." Is social media for you? Maybe the plastics industry isn't on the leading edge of this trend. But you'd be surprised by the number of Plastics Blog and twitter.com/plasticsnews lurkers and posters who are out there.