Social media and businesses: not there yet

Picture this: you find yourself talking to a group of young professionals (30yrs old at most), the majority from the HR areas and some from Communication, about social media and businesses.

At some point they suggest a social media presence for a company brand as “restrictive” as possible, just to create some awareness but low on interaction because that’s not the way they want their presence to be. It sounds like you are hearing something like “we want a sort of corporate website… but with more visuals… and on Facebook!”.

You pinch yourself, check the calendar to see if you have not been teleported to the early 2000s, and gently start explaining your point of view regarding people’s expectations about social media and the hard lessons learned by other companies/brands.

But then it hits you. There it is, right before your eyes, what you always suspected was true: just because people are young, just because they have a Facebook account and a fancy smartphone in their pocket does not mean that they understand what this whole social media thing is and what it means for businesses.

And in some ways, how could they? They probably earned their degree in a time where “online” meant having a corporate website or an ecommerce platform (how fast things have changed!). Back then, and not long ago, companies (presumably) controlled the message and people did not have a say (well, maybe they did, but only in the comfort of their small networks of friends and family).

So maybe for these young professionals social networks are just something they do occasionally to share their vacations’ photos with friends or that cool new video by the Coldplay… Maybe they have yet to grasp the full magnitude of what this connected consumer means (not to speak of the empowered employee). And they most probably are not aware that the external facing social media initiatives need to be supported by strong internal collaboration to be truly sustainable.

In a way this reminds me of my own path. I had a blog already and a social network account long before I started understanding the phenomenon, before I started reading Wikinomics during a summer vacations (the Aha moments that book provoked at the time are still fresh in my memory), before I devoured Clay Shirky’s books and The Cluetrain Manifesto, before I got to know the research work of the Altimeter Group, before I met David Armano, before I started investigating the Dell Hell and other stories, before I started trying to figure out the implications of social media on government, society, citizenship… and more profoundly on the way we work (my passion) and the way our companies connect and collaborate with the outside world. And now that I know, I just want to know more!

We still have a long way to go… and some businesses & professionals, it seems, will learn it the hard way. We are not all there yet.

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