Why are so many businesses afraid of social media? A September 2009 survey of global marketers by MarketingSherpa revealed three basic Social Media fears that make businesses go weak at the knees (and the wallets): 1. Brand Degradation Fear “People can trash my brands in front of large audiences.” 2. Competence Fear “I am using outdated marketing/merchandising techniques (and I’ll be displaying my failings in a very public way in social media).” \3. Competitive Fear “Consumers will leave my site to find a more sociallyengaging site.” THE PROBLEM FOR ALL BUSINESSES The vast majority of today’s business owners and operators are not ‘digital natives’. For many, social networks are the place where anarchy reigns (in the form of uncontrolled consumer activity and comment). Some worry that the Facebooks and Twitters of this frightening new world will be marketing graveyards – the place where brands are most at threat. And there is a risk of that happening – at least for those brands and organisations that don’t play fair with the consumer. For most organisations, however, social networks are really just another communications tool – if they can overcome their most basic and heartfelt concerns. Which brings us back to that research. 1. I’m afraid that “people can trash my products in front of large audiences”. Yes, it does happen – just ask Cadbury or JetStar or Kraft (in their capacity as makers of the brieflyinfamous iSnack 2.0). But social media simply accelerates the scuttlebutt that’s out there anyway. If consumers are talking negatively about your brand on Facebook, it’s a symptom of a bigger problem. Social media didn’t create unhappy customers – it just gave them a platform. If you’re not actively engaged trying to solve their problems, corporate silence will do even more damage to your brand and your business.2. “I am using outdated marketing/ merchandising techniques.” Drag yourself into the 21st century. a. Upskill yourself. Read a book, Google the topic or take a course on social media marketing, and then start putting what you learn into practice; b. Hire someone with the necessary skills to handle your social media marketing requirements and leave them to it; or c. Take a course, and then identify which social media elements you really must handle yourself. Outsource the rest. 3. “Consumers will leave my site to find a more socially-engaging site.” It’s a jungle out there. Social media has little to do with the reality of competition. There’ll always be some other shiny bauble for customers to chase after. As always, be yourself, put on your finest gameface and be ready to grab your share. REMEMBER , IT’S A CONVERSATION The required behaviour for businesses in social media is both straightforward and timeless, regardless of the fancy new technologies involved. In fact, it’s difficult to go past the advice offered by the legendary newspaper columnist Emily Post (the Oprah Winfrey of her day) in her classic 1922 Etiquette guidebook: “Ideal conversation should be a matter of equal give and take, but too often it is all ‘take’. Above all, stop and think what you are saying! This is really the first, last and only rule. “If you ‘stop’, you can’t chatter or expound or flounder ceaselessly, and if you ‘think’, you will find a topic and a manner of presenting your topic so that your neighbour will be interested rather than long-suffering.” ARE YOU THERE YET? Social media is here to stay: 82% of New Zealand internet users have visited Facebook recently and 1.92 million Kiwis now look to their fellow internet users for opinions and information about products, services and brands (Nielsen 2010 Social Media Report). It’s way past time to start engaging.