Paying Lip Service to Social Media

I recently came across an interesting opinion piece by analyst and consultant Allen Bonde on SearchCRM (part of TechTarget’s publication network, which now includes eBizQ as well). Bonde made some very reasoned, topical arguments acknowledging the prominent role of “social CRM” in the enterprise and cautioning companies to wait a minute before diving in. I wholeheartedly agree.

As Bonde points out, there are three major ideological questions around the concept of a “social business strategy” that must be answered to ensure that we’re adopting social media for the right reasons – not because the bandwagon beckons. First of all, will social methods of operation really improve our products’ market prospects or adoption? Second, is going from “social media to Enterprise 2.0” really a clean transition? And finally, here’s the question that really piqued my interest – are we prioritizing style over substance when it comes to balancing what’s best for the business with what’s hot for consumers?

Obviously this is a point of lively debate and so long as traditionalists and experimentalists continue to work alongside each other, it won’t be resolved. Nonetheless, I can’t help but see the “old school” and “new school” attitudes as two faces of the same coin. To argue that social media and “Enterprise 2.0” are the folly of over-stimulated twenty-somethings is to dismiss a fundamental change in our business environment for fear of embracing progress. Conversely, putting up a Facebook page for one’s middleware solutions company and expecting to have 100,000 IT executives fawning and fanning over it is equally ludicrous.

In the business world we’re all too eager to co-opt any successful trend as our own creation. It’s as though we simply must use popular social networks because ignoring them will show our age and creative limitations. What we’re conveniently forgetting is the reason such communities were started – not for the purposes of sharing product updates and podcasts, but as a haven for checking up on friends – a repository of fond memories. That’s why I’m hesitant to barge ahead and force my company to assume an identity in a social space that is still tremendously successful at facilitating college romances.

That’s not to say that I’m a traditionalist, either. As I’ve discussed in the past, we’re moving towards a communications renaissance through which we can connect with others across the globe face-to-face, and shunning that incredible potential for fear of looking silly is a disservice to your customers, to your employees and to yourself. The key is to incorporate not just the most popular of consumer social media elements, but those that actually directly involve one’s target audience. There are so many places on the Web where IT executives, business executives, purchasing managers and any number of specific groups congregate, and these places don’t just pay lip service to our commonalities – they exist because of them.

Social media is not defined by a single application like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr or Posterous. Forcing a square peg into a round hole doesn’t make us fashionable and hip; it reduces us to drones. The Internet is nearly limitless and filled with opportunities for every company to customize, create and hone their social business experience; to mingle with the right contacts; to learn from customers and grow in maturity and influence. I assure you – engaging one’s true followers, loyal customers and trusted friends, through genuine conversations and caring, thoughtful interactions will never go out of style.