Overcoming key resistence to adopting social media2008-04-19
I’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.
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.