November 1st, 2013
By Euan Semple
Use the word “social” in many business circles and the first reaction is “what has being social got to do with business”. Add the word “media” to it and Social Media brings to mind stories of youthful indiscretion on Facebook or businesses being mauled by angry customers on Twitter. Why on earth would you want any of that stuff anywhere near your business? Why devote time and resources on something as apparently wasteful as social media? Well there are two sets of reasons. One customer-facing, the other closer to home.
These days most of your customers will be using social media in one form or another. They are talking about every topic under the sun – including your products or services. Not being willing to be part of those conversations increasingly makes them wonder why you’re not.
Sadly many small businesses chose to emulate large corporations and pay marketing agencies to present a glossy professional brand image, even on social platforms. The problem is this makes you look like any other business. You lose the ability to stand out and stand for something.
To have impact and be part of the online conversations you need to rediscover your voice and this is where SMEs have a huge advantage over their larger corporate competitors. Most small businesses are still run by their founders, or if not they are still close to their original purpose. They have a passion that bigger organisations envy. They know their products or services intimately and are close to their customers. This means that they can share this passion and in depth knowledge in the conversations that are taking place on the social web. They can get nerdy about their areas of expertise, they can encourage customers to share that interest in detail and nuance.
To engage in these online conversations takes confidence. Confidence to be vulnerable to criticism and to risk looking foolish. It also takes energy, but people respond to authentic energy and enthusiasm. Enthusiastic people are fun to be with. They are different from the cold dispassionate professionalism that we have come to expect. They are full of life and they draw us to them. We want to enjoy working with them. We want to enjoy buying from them. We want real people sharing real knowledge about real products.
Working smarter and faster
The attitude that work is hard and that people can’t be trusted and have to be controlled to avoid unproductive chaos belongs in the Victorian era along with dark Satanic mills. Today, businesses are employing people who have grown up with social tools, who expect to be able to build and maintain networks and relationships to do their work effectively – and to have fun doing it. So we need to enlist the support and active engagement of the people who work with and for us. We need to cultivate an environment where people identify with our goals and understand how to work towards them.
It is easy to assume that everyone who works for you understands your priorities and their role in pursuing your goals but this is rarely the case. Meaning and purpose can get lost in the noise and detail of the day to day. This, believe it or not, is where using social tools comes in. Using these tools inside your business gives you a way of recording and sharing insights and ideas about your business.
A chief exec taking a few moments a day to stop and think of what had been noteworthy, what had made a difference, what was missing and what needs to happen, and then sharing these thoughts (in writing, on a blog or in audio or video) can have a huge impact. Just spending time thinking about these things will help you see the bigger picture again. You will have become more thoughtful and possibly have rediscovered the reasons why you started your business in the first place.
If you have done a half decent job people will pick up on the ideas in what you have said. They will react with their own views and input. They will engage in solving the problems that the business faces. Remember, if you are stuck in a world of out-of-date processes with staff who are not actively engaging in their work then you are in a dangerous place. Your collective energy will be low, your ability to react and respond will be compromised and the risk of new players, who aren’t burdened with the same legacy or attitudes, will potentially reinvent your industry and leave you standing.
I understand the nervousness many feel at doing something so apparently counter-intuitive. There is a fear of looking like that dad dancing at a disco where people are sort of proud of you for having a go while quietly wishing you would sit down. I understand the fear of taking your eye off the ball and wasting time while your business crumbles under you. But the one thing that is most likely to get you out of your current situation is to rediscover your purpose, to rekindle your energy and enthusiasm, to reconnect with your staff and enlist their active support in moving you forward.
I am not saying that simply putting in social tools and starting to blog is going to sort all of your business problems, but these are outward manifestations of a change in attitude and approach. They are about networks and conversations, they are about passion and connections. They are about a culture change that I believe will come easier to small businesses than large ones and they are about adapting to a world that is changing very fast and in which the smartest and most committed organisations will be the ones that survive.
Twelve years ago, while working in a senior position at the BBC, Euan was one of the first to introduce what have since become known as social media tools into a large, successful organisation. He has subsequently had seven years of unique experience working with organisation such as KPMG, Nokia, The World Bank and NATO. More at euansemple.com