Social Media Wake-up Call for Laggards

How do you convince skeptical managers of the value and benefit of social media?

That was a question that was raised at a conference for the further education sector last week where I gave a keynote on social media and reputation management.

The digital marketing event in London, UK, was hosted by the Association of Colleges. The audience was made up of communication and marketing practitioners from further education colleges in the UK.

The primary audience for colleges is 16 to 18-years-olds seeking both academic and vocational qualifications. Every piece of available data reports that this audience segment has a voracious appetite for social media and its consumption of traditional media is diminishing fast.

I did a quick poll during my session and asked how many people in the audience had picked up a printed newspaper that morning. Less than ten people in the group of 100, aged between 25 and 55 years old, raised their hands.

This is the narrative of fragmenting media, shifting from print to online. It’s a story that will continue over the next generation.

Yet the audience at last week’s event reported that colleges are wedded to traditional marketing communication and media relations tactics, and are slow adapting to new forms of digital communication.

The panel, made up of myself, Nick Jones, Head of Digital, Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office, and Ben Verinder, Director of Communications, Association of Colleges, suggested the following as a wake-up call for managers who do not recognize the value of digital communications:

  1.  Crisis – a crisis event shines a bright light on communication processes and structures that aren’t fit for purpose. Communications needs to be transparent and in real time.
  2.  Monitor – explore the conversations taking place on forums and social networks about your organization, location or market. There will almost certainly be a reason that you need to join in.
  3.  Search – head to Google and search for your organization. This is what your customers and prospects will do. How does your organization perform against its competitors?
  4.  Influence – explore online influencers for your location and market. These may be journalists, public officials or business leaders. But they are more likely to be bloggers, or your own customers or prospects.
  5.  Traditional media – look out for the stories that have been written about your organization online and in the traditional media. What’s the reaction to stories in the comments? Your organization should almost certainly be part of these conversations.

Undoubtedly it’s a generational issue.

There are still managers who have their emails printed out by an assistant and who don’t dabble on the Internet unaccompanied.

There are also still organizations where social media is beyond the reach of the firewall. By all means set policies but blocking social media makes as much sense as frisking employees for newspapers or banning mobile phones in the workplace.

The writing is on the wall and it’s likely to be a Facebook wall. Organizations that fail to recognize the changing habits of their audience simply won’t reach their audience in the future.