Navigating the Social Media Maze: How can businesses use social media effectively
By: Susan Sweeney & Randall Craig
Maximum Press, 2011, 195 pages
Review by: Jason Hayes, Communications Director, American Coal Council
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, MySpace, LinkedIn, Naymz, Plaxo, Spock, Foursquare, Yelp, Tagged … the list of available social media sites is impressive – and intimidating – and it’s growing and morphing on a daily basis. For businesses, successfully navigating that morphing mass of multimedia voices, videos, tweets, posts, updates, and feeds could eat up the careers of several employees.
With over 525 separate social networks in existence, more than 110 million “tweets” sent out daily, and over 500 million regular users spending more than 700 billion minutes per month on Facebook, industry cannot avoid the fact that there is a massive potential to reach customers through social media. However, that same critical mass of people and information makes social media a potential minefield for business.
It’s easy to see how individuals and organizations could get lost in all that data and information. In fact, experts estimated that in 2007, U.S. businesses suffered some $650 million in productivity losses from “unnecessary” social media-related interruptions. Even more potentially damaging are the impacts associated with poor brand management, inappropriate employee (or customer) activity impacting the company, the release of sensitive information, and the list of potential pitfalls goes on and on.
With so much at stake – for either good or bad – businesses need a guide to help with their entry into the social media world.
Co-authors Susan Sweeney and Randall Craig have put together just that guide. “Social Media for Business: 101 Ways to Grow Your Business without Wasting Your Time” offers businesses a solid, basic introduction to the realm of social media. In just 195 pages, the authors cover a broad range of topics that any business considering entering the social media arena must take into account. Topics such as measuring to determine if social media should be a part of your marketing mix – should you take part, or should you avoid it until other aspects of your business are better established? They also look at deciding how or why to use social media – will it be a marketing and public relations tool, or will you use it to bolster human resources outreach? They also provide examples of how to integrate social media into your operations.
Craig and Sweeney rightly argue that social media cannot simply be “tacked on” to prop up a failing or disorganized business. Attempting to integrate social media without a solid, functioning business plan, will add further distractions and confusion. So, it is this first section of the book that will be of most use to businesses that have not yet entered the social media world, or that are questioning/rethinking the role that social media should play in their organization. Where many social media guides fail, this book shines. Sweeney and Craig treat social media as just one more tool in the overall arsenal of business, as opposed to pumping up unexamined excitement for the latest fad.
As with any other tool, a business must determine if they are properly prepared to use it; how they should apply its use, which (if any) employees should be tasked with managing this new outreach tool, what basic rules employees should follow when active on social media sites, etc. Rather than simply plunging in headlong with instructions on how to set up your new blog or Facebook page, Sweeney and Craig wisely counsel their readers to develop a specific social media plan; do the research and carry out necessary due diligence. They instruct readers to clearly understand how competitors are using social media, where their customers are active (what sites do they use), how to integrate social media with other operations and activities, etc.
Moving from those initial due diligence stages, Sweeney and Craig then investigate the nuts and bolts of social media. They describe the technologies that are available, how best to manage search engines and search engine optimization (SEO) – so the rest of the world can find your business online. They give a thorough description of the main social media sites: LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, and Flickr, noting how each of these services work, what options they offer, and how they differ from their competitors. After covering the main sites, they move on to provide shorter reviews of “Tier Two Sites” and then list several “Other” sites your business may make use of in your social media plan.
The final chapters of the book cover the actual implementation and monitoring. They provide a useful framework to help confirm your particular social media audience(s) and how to break down your goals for reaching each audience you choose. They discuss benchmarking to determine success and to review potential risks. Implementation, launch strategies, choosing consultants, and first steps are also part of their instruction on putting your plan together. Having decided to pursue social media, will you task your employees with doing the additional work internally, or will you contract out to social media consultants? Will you burst on the social media scene in an all out blitz, or will you ramp up your activities slowly? Once started, how do you measure success in the social media world and what other tools and software exist to help track all these new, tech-savvy customers you’re winning over?
Finally Sweeney and Craig encourage the ‘old-guard’ to stay up to date. Doing so involves taking notes from your business network, searching the Internet for new ideas and technologies, and following closely those ever changing investment cycles. Staying up to date also involves taking copious notes from younger generations. Older generations will typically have the experience, people skills, and knowhow to keep the brick and mortar world vibrant and successful, but in many cases the virtual world is a mystery to them. Not so for your Gen X, Gen Y, and Gen @ employees, who have grown up using “www,” “Photoshop,” and “.com” in every day conversation. Most of the Gen X, Y, and @ crowd intrinsically understand and speak the language of computers, smart phones, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, streaming video, and the Internet. So relying on that familiarity to promote your social media efforts just makes sense. As the authors argue, staying on top of the rapid-fire changes of the digital world will help you to keep the edge that is needed to successfully use social media as an effective business tool.
Reinforcing their advice, the authors have even provided readers with a way to regularly update their knowledge. A printed book won’t update as it sits on the shelf, so it won’t take long before numbers and links are out of date. Craig and Sweeney have, therefore, provided links and passwords to their website where readers can find constantly updated information on social media.
The world is changing – rapidly – business must learn to change with it, or it will be left behind. Social media is an effective and easy means of staying in touch with your customers. It provides the opportunity for immediate contact that so many customers take for granted today. However, the constant state of change and overwhelming levels of information also provide endless opportunities for distraction and confusion. Employees could end up spending precious time and limited resources focusing on online resources that pull them away from organization goals and provide little return for your investment. Additionally, the same speed of connection and change that makes social media so attractive also provides numerous opportunities for a mistake to “go viral” and cause serious damage to your organization’s reputation and branding. Repairing that damage could be expensive and time consuming. Business must be prepared to deal with both the benefits and costs of social media before jumping in.
“Social Media for Business” is an essential starting point for any business or organization looking to enter the social media world. This book provides basic business, planning, and technology principles for readers that allow them to make the best business use of social media, while also highlighting methods to avoid common pitfalls.
I’d rate “Social Media for Business” – or something a lot like it – a ‘must read’ for any connected business.