Overcoming key resistence to adopting social media

Posted on April 19, 2008 9:59 am by | Legal | Measurement | Social Media

Shel HoltzI’ve talked before about the reasons companies resist social media. The Arthur W. Page Society and the Corporate Executive Board are out with a study that puts some numbers behind the top reasons for organizational resistance. The study, which targeted more than 30 chief communications officers who are corporate members of the Page Society, revealed nothing surprising, but still, it’s easier to offer counter-arguments when you know what’s holding companies back.

Resistance from the legal department

Lawyers take too much heat for opposing social media. Their job is to be cautious, to advise their employers/clients against things that pose legal risks. The fault rests with leaders who blindly follow legal advice rather than balancing it against other factors. When faced with lawyers who want to put the brakes on new media, offer the following points:

  • Lawyers have okayed blogs of all stripes at 58 of the Fortune 500.
  • Sun Microsystems’ general counsel is blogging.
  • Few of the legal concerns have materialized among companies with blogs.
  • The value of engagement in social media, applied intelligently, will easily outweigh the risks (see next item).

Lack of ROI

There have been a lot of developments in the ability to assess the return on investment for engagement with social media. See Kami Huyse’s example of ROI from a social media effort on behalf of her client, Sea World. PR measurement guru Katie Delahaye Paine also addresses measurement of social media quite nicely in her new book, “Measuring Public Relationships.”

In any case, the days of shrugging off social media because there’s no ROI are over. We need to educate the decision-makers about the kinds of ROI being attained by others and how it can be measured for our organizations.

Too labor-intensive

I remember speaking to the CEO of a Dutch company who said his board was concerned about the amount of time spent blogging. He answered that he wasn’t spending any more time communicating than he was before. However, some of the total time allocated to communicating had shifted to his blog because the blog was a more effective tool, in many circumstances, than phone calls, speeches at industry association meetings, and newspaper interviews. He hadn’t given up on those (and other) older forms of communication, but adding blogs to the mix allowed him to use the most appropriate tool for the job.

On the other hand, some social media will require additional labor. Southwest Airlines had to hire additional staff to monitor and approve comments left to its blog. It wasn’t something Southwest hesitated to do, though, given that they had already concluded that the ROI from the blog would far outweigh the cost of managing it (see previous item). If the company takes a strategic approach to its social media activities, the ROI will already be understood (a far better approach than saying, “Hey, we gotta have a blog!”).

It’s also easy to start small in order to get comfortable with social media before diving in. I advised one colleague that his company could start with a blog focused on recruiting (a key issue for his company) rather than a Southwest-like blog or a CEO blog. The audience is more limited and the discussion more focused. When the value of that blog proves itself, additional online social activities simply become the next step.

Lack of expertise

This is actually a valid concern, but shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. The solution is to get some expertise.

There are several ways to do this: Hire someone, start small (see previous item) in order to develop the expertise, find someone in your organization who is already engaged and take advantage of their experience or contract with any of the agencies or individuals out there who can help provide you with the expertise you need.

Challenges, not obstacles

I always rolled my eyes at the corporate-speak that positioned problems as “opportunities.” But we who advocate our companies’ involvement in social media should see the resistance as challenges to overcome rather than roadblocks that send us packing. That’s what Northwest Mutual Life Insurance did, according to the Forrester case study. The conservative, 150-year-old financial services company identified the areas of resistence, then found the means to overcome them, ultimately launching an internal blogging initiative. Applying the principles of sound business management to a company’s entry into the social media space doesn’t have to be an oxymoronic concept.



  • 1.All good points, Shel. The Page/CEB study was motivated by the Page Society's white paper, called The Authentic Enterprise http://www.awpagesociety.com/images/uploads/2007AuthenticEnterprise.pdf, which urges companies to develop meaningful relationships with public constituencies, at least in part through the use of new media. Your comments are hepful to companies looking for ways to do this.

    Roger Bolton | April 2008 | New Canaan, CT

  • 2.Nice illustration of the counter-arguments, Shel. I pointed at your post, without adding any particularly brilliant additional thoughts!

    Eric Eggertson | April 2008

  • 3.I am finding that the companies that engage in a way that seeks a win-win for both the company and the stakeholders are enjoying fantastic benefits that they might not have even anticipated at the start (i.e. newfound relationships, brand loyalty and of course, a healthy return on their investment). However, the key ingredient is the willingness of management to move forward despite the challenges. It really takes a champion on the management team of the company.

    Kami Huyse | April 2008

  • 4.Shel, I particularly appreciate your suggestion for 'social media shy' companies to start small. So many people feel overwhelmed and run out with all guns firing in all directions rather than a graduated approach with more quality than quantity.

    Tanya McGinnity | April 2008

  • 5.Shell, fyi - your "Contact Me" link at the top of the page is throwing an error when you click on it. Wanted to give you the heads up to http://www.snama.org (Social Media and Networking Association) website which should hopefully be launching in a couple of weeks.



    Andy Steggles | April 2008 | New York

  • 6.Appreciate it, Andy; evidently, there was a change to the URL. It's fixed now.

    Shel Holtz | April 2008

  • 7.Ha! The timing on this is too funny - I'm working on a presentation now called "Selling Social Media up the Ladder". These are great highlights, and the only one I think is missing is "Fear". I'm surprised at how many people are simply scared of doing something wrong, so scared they just don't do much of anything new.

    Jake McKee | April 2008 | Dallas, Texas, USA

  • 8.What is overlooked is the tremendous upside of viral loops when companies encourage its employees to participate in social media.

    We all know that recommendations from our friends and family have a ton more impact that messaging from a company.

    Example: If my brother worked for Ford and every once-in-a-while he posted something about Ford asking for feedback on a project, or a video that gave insight to engineering the next car, or a charity function they are doing in my local area, I would participate because I'm following my brother, not Ford.

    I would be willing to bet that if a companies started encouraging its employees to actively participate in social networks, not on the company's behalf, but just on the fact that well connected employees are a tremendous resource for viral communication, they would see a huge impact on the response to its messaging and initiatives.

    Posted about this at endlesswormhole.com

    James Clark | April 2008 | Boulder, Colorado

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