With email, iPhones and Blackberrys, not to mention school and community list-serves, and buckets of emails for work and home, information is coming at us faster than we can say digital download. And now we’re expected to keep up with Facebook, Linked In and Twitter, too? There’s simply no time! Why should anyone want to use social media if they are already busy professionals? More specifically…
Who Cares About Social Media?
If my customers, clients, donors or referral sources don’t care about social media, why should I? It’s hard to imagine they don’t. Consider these facts (from Neilsen Research):
- In March 2010, people spent an average of 6 hours per month on social networking sites, as compared to a little more than 2 hours two years ago.
- 13.4 M Americans watch video on mobile phones.
- There are roughly as many iPhone users 55 and older as there are 13-24.
- 27 M Americans have listened to an audio podcast in the last month.
- Unique Twitter Use was up 1,382%, with 7 Million users as of last February.
- Facebook has more than 400 million users.
- The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is Women Over 55.
Notice that if folks are spending 6 hours a month on SM, that’s about 12 minutes a day. That seems doable, right?
Stats are nice, but no serious business people care about social media, so why should I?
Given that more people are using social media than email (as of March, 2009-Neilsen again), corporations are taking notice. Forrester Research projects that companies will spend $3.1 billion on social media by 2014. Why? Because smart companies are using this cost-effective tool to build better relationships with clients, vendors and policymakers. And frankly, nonprofits are way ahead, as they’ve learned how to leverage social media tools to reach donors and advocate issues directly to the public.
OK, fine, but we’re a [fill in the blank here] and not a multi-national corporation or a nonprofit with a cause. How can social media help us?
Social media can help a small firm compete with bigger players. It allows businesses to offer added client value (content) in an information marketplace. And it can help you promote your personal brand and that of your organization. How? If you’re just getting started with SM, set up a Linked In account and join and follow two user groups—one related to your area of business and one related to the industry of one of your top clients. Almost immediately, you’ll gain new professional contacts, access critical information, and be able to share resources with colleagues and clients. Twitter is also an excellent resource for intel on best practices, thought leaders, and what your clients are up to or up against. (Try Tweetdeck to customize your Twitter feed–it’s a handy tool to lay out tweets in columns so they are easier/faster to follow).
Fine. But people can bad-mouth us through social media.Who needs that?
Yep, they can. Possibly they already have. But how would you know if you aren’t using social media? At a bare minimum, set up a “Google Alert” for your own name and that of your firm, as well as for the names or issues of any key clients (Hint: you can remove any Google Alert once you don’t need it any more). You will now be quickly informed via email on issues that affect your firm and your clients.
But what about our younger staff? We can’t just let them be “out there” on social media!
Well, first of all they already are. So to protect yourself, you need to have firm policy for social media use. In a survey of employers, the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics found that while one-fourth of companies have already had to discipline an employee, only 10% have a policy addressing social network sites. Don’t panic. There are plenty of sample policies to choose from as a basis. The Red Cross spent quite a bit of time thinking about their policy, for example, and you can benefit from their ideas. Engage your stakeholders–management committee members & managing partners but also younger associates if you are a law firm, marketing folks and executive leadership as well as up-and-comers if you are another type of business. Have a discussion about how SM can propel your organizational and personal professional development goals. Are you looking to attract new employees? To learn more about a new client industry? Be more visible in the local community? Develop your strategy intentionally around goals and your social media outreach is more likely to deliver results.
There’s no question that social media takes some work to understand and eats up time. The question is whether you can make it time well spent. I’ve had to accept the fact that I need to make time for social media, just as I did for email and the web. I’m pretty sure other professionals will need to do the same.