With blogs and online communities sweeping the web, every organization wants to jump on the social media bandwagon. While I think social media tools can provide easy ways for organizations to get their message out and connect with people, they shouldn’t be too quick to dive in–not before they know what they’re getting into.
Here is a brief definition of social media from Wikipedia (a social media tool):
Social media use the “wisdom of crowds” to connect information in a collaborative manner. Social media can take many different forms, including Internet forums, message boards, weblogs, wikis, podcasts, pictures and video.
The popularity of “Web 2.0″ destinations like Facebook, YouTube, Flickr and Twitter, plus the explosion of blogs, has taken off for a few simple reasons:
- People find them fun and are willing to spend a lot of free time on these sites.
- People are using them to connect with others like them, fulfilling a basic human need (and putting the “social” into social media).
- These tools are relatively easy to start using, with very little help and training, even for non-techies.
Once organizations–whether companies, nonprofits or other self promoters–start getting into the act, it’s too easy for the fun and social parts to be taken out of the equation. Organizations like to control their message and their content, whereas social media tools thrive on openness. And organizations have a vested interest in promoting themselves rather than having fun with the tools. Once commercialization or PR efforts are suspected, it’s probably a big turnoff for many participants.
I would advise any organization wanting to take advantage of the popularity, ease of use and low cost of social media tools to tread carefully. It’s important that the employees assigned to this are already using these tools personally and are very familiar with the communities and their (often) unwritten rules of interaction. The organization needs to provide something of value to the community, something that the intended audience will naturally respond to and want to participate in; blatant commercialism or self promotion must be avoided. Finally, these efforts take time. It’s best to lurk, listen and learn before diving in.
Here are some good resources for organizations that are looking to capitalize on the social media phenomenon:
- “Should your organization use social media sites?”–The TechSoup article asks some basic questions and raises some important cautions for organizations to consider before diving into social media; also provides some good uses of social media by nonprofits.
- “The social media helix and learning”–Describes how people learn how to use social media tools, providing a map to how to gradually get involved (The Bamboo Project Blog).
- “Manage your online reputation”–A LifeHacker post details how to use various social media tools to set up a profile for yourself; also applicable to organizations.