Gerard’s Top 5 Tips for 2009 – Day 4 – Social Media Yea or Nay?

Social Media is such a big topic for 2009 that I think I need to cover it in two aspects. Today we’ll look at defining it, determining if and when it should be used, and explore why 2009 may be a great year to add, use or increase your social media. Tomorrow we’ll look at Social Media Training, which includes teaching executives how to behave in a social space, as well as helping them become aware of how their daily actions can become social media fodder.

To start with, social media is not for everyone and not for every organization. Just because you sit in front of a computer every day doesn’t mean that the rest of the world does the same thing. To get the latest statistics on who uses the internet and how, I’d suggest you visit PEW research at: http://www.pewinternet.org/

Their statistics will astound you and make you realize that those of us who use computers every day are freaks of nature and in many ways in the minority of society.

Also realize that:

• social media can be a great internal communications tool

• it can be a great external public relations tool

• and it can be a crisis waiting to happen.

On the internal communications side, there are two things to consider before you try to force feed blogs to your organization. First, determine how many people in your organization do their jobs every day without ever touching a computer. In some industries, this number is huge, which means those employees will never benefit from any Social Media you put in place. Secondly, recognize the generational gap between those who use social media and those who do not.

The generational gap in communications cuts both ways. For example, PEW research indicates that e-mail is an effective way to communicate with computer owners older than 17. However, their research shows that only 14% of computer users ages 12-17 have an e-mail address. Keep in mind that e-mail, as a communications tool, only became popular 10 years ago, but already younger people first transitioned to Instant Messaging and now on to simple messaging via MySpace or Facebook, or via cell phone text messaging. So read the research before you assume everyone has your habits.

I’d suggest that because of the generational differences, you may be able to better communicate with older audiences by traditional means and younger audiences through social means. You may find that blogs and other social tools work well for the under 30 crowd, that traditional websites and e-mails work well for those 30-45, while traditional printed materials are favored by those over 45.

While some organizations are led by outgoing executives who are tech savvy and ready to lead a blog, not all organizations are. If social media doesn’t fit the style of your executives, delegate the blogging duties to a Gen X or Y who gets it. Perhaps consider having the younger blog leader interview executives and field questions for them.

Beyond blogging, I love podcasting and videocasting. I actually use these more than blogs because it fits my style. Just prior to Christmas, the New Orleans area, where I live, was blanketed by an unusually heavy snow. I shot a quick 17 second video greeting in the snow and posted it to YouTube, then filed it as an i-report with CNN. Next, I contacted everyone in my Linkedin.com data base and sent them the video link as a Christmas greeting, rather than mailing Christmas Cards. Throughout the morning I could use the YouTube view counter to see that more than half of my contacts had likely watched the video. Then during the noon hour, my phone began to ring off the hook as people saw that same video broadcast by CNN, using me as an I reporter.

In the past 2 years I’ve been asked to teach lots of in-house corporate workshops on videocasting because I’ve worked in television and video since 1980. I think a great form of social media is to teach an executive how to travel with a point and shoot video camera so they can record 2 minute videos as they travel around the organization, especially if it is a decentralized organization with many locations around the country or world.

In other organizations, executives find it fast and easy to record their thoughts into a digital recorder, then allow their staff to post the recording as a podcast.

Many organizations oppose any form of social media because they are afraid it will become home to a giant bitch session. I address that by having a team of people establish protocol and etiquette for online behavior. Then I suggest that blogs, for example, be monitored so comments can be approved for appropriateness, but without censorship. Additionally, I admonish executives that blogs can give them a window into what employees think and what they otherwise say behind your back at the water cooler. Some executives prefer to blindly think everything is always wonderful. I remind them of the rule of thirds, which says at any given time, one-third of the people love you, one-third of the people hate you, and the middle one-third will swing like a pendulum between liking and disliking you, depending upon what is popular at the time. If you believe, as I do, that you can’t win all the people all of the time, then social media can allow an organization to find out how to win most of the people.

Let’s also take a minute to address ethics in social media. I do not suggest that you write blog entries for an executive, even if you ask them to approve it before it is posted. Social media has a grit to it that needs to be maintained. I do think it is fine for an executive to dictate his or her thoughts to be transcribed for a blog. And as long as dictation is taking place, why not record it as a podcast?

In tomorrow’s lesson we’ll address how to respond on a blog when I talk about Social Media Training.

As to what counts as social media, an organization’s social media participation does not have to be limited to blogs, podcasting, videocasting or a FaceBook style site. Social media can be part of a strong, external communications and public relations strategy. My friend George Wright is a perfect example of how a company can uses social media. In his case, he simply video taped an experiment in his corporate lab, where high powered blenders are tested. Next, he posted the video to YouTube.com. At one point, the video was the 35th most viewed video on YouTube, plus it was shown by major news networks that love to show cool web videos. The video eventually landed the company spots on shows like Jay Leno. And to top it all off, sales went through the roof. The company now has a website called www.willitblend.com

During the 2008 elections, I helped a client by shooting short videos and posting them to YouTube to keep voters and the media informed about election developments. For example, when early voting lines were long and people were complaining, we convinced the elections commissioner to add more voting machines at key polling locations. I shot a short video of the voting machines being installed, then posted it to YouTube. A link to the video was sent to the media and posted to the county’s election website so voters would know the county was on the ball. The video helped eliminate complaints from voters and changed the tone of election coverage by the media. Some media even posted the link on their news websites.

As for YouTube, one way to quickly identify the generational divide in your organization is to ask who is a regular viewer, or for that maatter, who has ever watched a video on YouTube. The response will likely astound everyone in the room, with Gen X & Y’s shocked that the Boomers don’t use YouTube and the Boomers puzzled about what all the YouTube buzz is.

And on that note, let me say that as we address Social Media Training tomorrow, we’ll examine why executives need to be taught about YouTube and how their bad behavior can quickly destroy them if a cell phone video is posted to the web.

One final thought about social media and 2009; if you’ve been advocating it for some time now with no luck, consider that it may be a cost effective way to communicate with key audiences during bad economic times. That argument alone may help you get the green light to proceed with implementing social media where you work.

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