Social media is, as you would expect by its moniker, the media of the people. To appropriate an Americanism - it is media of, by and for the people.
It is your media.
It is my media.
And that simple fact doesn't change whether you are a kid waving a golf club and pretending to save the rebel alliance or a mom who writes about the challenges and rewards of raising twins or an employee who blogs about a company's impactful charitable programs.
Individuals create this media in the hopes of sparking a response, of generating a conversation around their point of view. And the conversation can take many forms: comments on the media itself, a video in response, or a Twitterstorm. Regardless of the specific form of the media, it is still a conversation. You and I. We and me. Us and them. Dialoging. Conversing. Trusting. Respecting. Being human.
My primary interest in (or at least my vocational interest) in social media and the ensuing conversations is those conversations that happen on behalf of the corporation. Let's be clear - a press release is not a conversation. Yet most companies continue to issue them and believe that is sufficient for conversation. And one or two spokespeople get approved and they talk to broadcast media who filter their words and sentiments into the zeitgeist.
This is not a conversation.
And it is not doing your company any favours - either through the form of your media or its representatives. The reality is that there are often far more engaging, informed and sociable employees in your fold to start and participate in the conversations that ARE happening around your products/behaviours/politics. But for varying reasons you don't trust them to engage. You don't trust them to create media that sparks a conversation.
Because the spark may burst into flame and then what do you do? you say.
I know, I know - I am not so naive as to not understand the myriad of fears and excuses and rationalizations that come to the fore when people like me say "Just empower your employees to talk to your customers".
So let's work through this fear together.
Because frankly, your best shot at engagement and at winning/keeping your customers is by encouraging your employees to speak their minds. Yes, they see your dirty laundry every day, know your secrets. But they also know your quiet, small daily triumphs. And, more importantly, they know the frustrations of a customer; they remember what it is like to be foiled by a corporate voicemail system. Or to be confronted by a misprinted manual. Or to read a seemingly counter-intuitive policy and wonder WHY?.
Most importantly, they know that the FAQs that you answer on your website aren't REALLY the FAQs. They are pretty words that sound soothing to lawyers and executives but in reality enrage any customer who reads them.
Employees need to speak the true FAQs. They need to socialize the true FAQs. They need to engage in conversations and give your customers the true FAQs. And they need to hear and integrate and respond when your customers give them the true FAQs.
Give your employees their voices. Let them use their media, the people's media, to connect with your customers. Imagine if every employee were on the customer service team. What happy (and profitable) customers you would have.
Go on. Trust them. They are your best hope.
NB: this post was written on the 10th anniversary of the Cluetrain Manifesto as part of the Cluetrain Plus 10 initiative. My thesis is #65. We're also the workers who make your companies go. We want to talk to customers directly in our own voices, not in platitudes written into a script. Many thanks to Keith McArthur for pulling together this initiative.