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Of ‘old skool’ businesses and new social horizons

Tuesday, 18 March 2008 — by

Social Media just isn’t business-friendly, and to some extent, neither is Social Networking. And with good reason, too — you can’t teach an old dog new tricks…

OK, so that’s a little trite, but you get the point sure enough. And I agree, there are those who despite their age, are just as adept at learning as those much younger than them.

Some of you will no doubt feel compelled to stand up and announce your enrollment in the school of life long learning. And good for you, too! But sadly, you’re in a minority.

I’d go as far as saying that most old dogs could be taught new tricks. But when you’re good at doing things the old way, why change?

That’s the dilemma faced by people like me trying to sell their clients on the idea of Social Networking or even ‘blogging, and how they could gain valuable exposure for their business.

Those in the mood for some further reading might like to read my thoughts on why Social Media isn’t right for most businesses. Unfortunately, the 3rd installment does get a little side-tracked with a few untruths & misquotes thrown my way, but I hold my own.

Social Networking — strength, weakness, opportunity or threat?

More fundamentally, while the old guard aren’t engaging in things like social networking, there’s a couple of things that could be happening:

  1. As stated previously, they’re quite possibly missing out on a chance to increase the exposure of their business.
  2. Their staff are either missing out, or they’re involved personally, via Facebook, as an obvious example.

And this is where things get complicated, since the 2nd of the aforementioned scenarios holds the greatest potential for commercial self-harm.

At the beginning of December last year, security specialist Paul Maloney wrote a guest post on the subject of Social Network profiles for businesses and the possible implications:

“Analysing the Social Network profile of a company should be something done on a regular basis, but it should be combined with policies, training and guidelines. If the employees don’t know how to behave correctly when revealing details about the company then disciplinary action can be hard to take.”

Might sound heavy, but as businesses move further and deeper into such new and potentially powerful mediums, policies need to be implemented to secure the interests of those businesses.

Now here’s the thing, if your boss doesn’t know the first thing about Social Networking, who’s going to be the first one to try and explain it to her?

Better yet, who wants to be the first to explain to her why staff party pictures of an .. ahem, overly-fond embrace between two otherwise spoken for staff members sat atop the B&W photocopier in HR found its way onto Facebook?

The very social business of employee policies

Jason Falls of Social Media Explorer started an intriguing discussion on employee policies for participating in Social Media:

“Does your company support your participation in social media? Are you apprehensive about admitting you work there when you comment on blogs, participate in forums or list your workplace or contact information on social networks?”

Which prompted me to comment:

“The thing is, a lot businesses have little or no concept of what their ‘brand’ is, let alone how to manage it.

Plus, their employees might be less revved about talking up their employers and caring less about what brand they might or might not have.

So for a lot of businesses, this kind of advice — sound and sage as it is, and believe me, I’ve doled out the same advice myself — is like talking to the wind.

I’ve been in same situations myself with people I know — both as employers and employees.

I recently had a security specialist by the name of Paul Maloney write for my ‘blog about the issues inherent to things like Facebook, as an example.

These are genuine issues that people genuinely know very little about, and don’t really want to know anything about.

For the most part, they have their heads down, micro-managing their businesses and Facebook is for teenagers and never the twain shall meet.

So there’s a lot of edification on the in between…”

It’s worth making a key distinction here, even if only for the purposes of my discussion and not Jason’s — Social Media and Social Networking aren’t interchangeable phrases.

Social Media is bookmarking services like del.icio.us, Reddit, Digg et cetera, while Social Networking is StumbleUpon (which is also Social Media) and Facebook.

With that said (and out of the way), Jason’s opened up a discussion which made me think back to Paul’s own ruminations on the subject of Social Networking for business.

I really hate using words like this, but the two articles have .. [dry swallow] synergy.

OK, I just puked in my mouth.

Anyway, between the two articles, there’s some great bullet-pointed advice to get you, your business and your assorted policies all pointing in the same / right direction, which I see no reason to add to.

My feeling is, businesses aren’t quite ready for full-on Social Networking, since the Social Networking we see today isn’t the finished article.

Indeed, over here in Britain, Social Networking is fomenting disclarity & unsureness [sic] as to whether it’s is going up, down or leveling off.

Business 2.0 — alpha?

As for Social Media, I’d forget about it for now. And here’s an excerpt from part 3 of my Social Media versus SEO discussion to strengthen my point:

“Who really benefits from Social Media?

The top 1% of businesses on Earth; like Apple, Jaguar, IBM, Nike, British Petroleum, Gap, Sky, Ford…

The reason that these businesses succeed with Social Media where the likes of the average butcher, or baker or candlestick maker fails is that they typically have one or more of the following: colossal brand recognition; global market penetration; very inventive marketing teams; something very unique about their product and / or service.”

With that as back-drop to the proceedings, it’s easy to see why even the curious business owners might be put off even kicking the tyres of Ecademy, one of the more established Social Networks for business.

More worryingly, when you see the WSJ’s and the Google’s of this world not getting Social Media, you know there’s something not quite right.

But if nothing else, I have oodles of faith. In time, we’ll look back and wonder how the hell we managed to get business done without our interconnected social network of friends, suppliers and contacts flung far & wide…

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