Stop trying to control the message

This week I’m going to concentrate on sharing case studies of companies that have actually had real world success because of social media, and in spite of ignoring traditional dictums like, “control the message.” I hate that concept. Is there another phrase that could possibly be more totalitarian or fascist?

Keep in mind: When the Chinese government arrests, tortures and executes dissidents who want to tell the rest of the world about abuses, they are also “controlling the message.” I don’t hear too many people saying that’s a good thing either.

It’s not easy explaining to people why it is good to talk to your customers.

That’s something I’ve been having some trouble understanding. Maybe that’s very Gen X of me. But I’m used to assuming that advertising is evil, and if anyone tries to “sell” me on something, they must be trying to screw me. Social media is a company’s way of saying, “here’s the real us!” so cynics like myself can get to know them, and maybe buy some stuff.

However, there are still people who insist only on sharing canned messages from boiler plates, and ignoring ANYTHING said about them. The thinking, perhaps, is that the risk isn’t worth the reward. If you get to know five customers, you may have to actually talk to them. Maybe there’s even a fear of having to answer someone publically with a complaint.

There are a mass of articles on, “Five steps to social media engagement” or “Top 10 reasons you need to be on Facebook.” But there’s still precious little advice for getting an old world communications team to learn new world tricks. There’s still a fantasy that all this Internet stuff is a sideshow in marketing budgets, and that the real thing happens in poorly written press releases, commercials and print ads.

People who don’t get it can no longer simply be patted on the head and looked at with sympathy. They are now, officially, in the way. These are the people who invariably try to push new media away because it isn’t something they personally control in their office fiefdom.

The good news is you don’t need to fight them on their ground, using their college textbook and what they learned when they interned. There are more case studies of stellar success from people using SEO, social media, e-mail, and more than there are companies knocking it out of the park with press releases.

When these people argue against social, they almost always do it with examples of some company that used Twitter to spew more one-way ad copy, more nonsense that is, essentially, “Web 1.0” thinking. When you can point that out, that someone slinging four messages a day on a company’s Twitter page while never saying anything back is not social media at all, then yes – failure is to be expected. The success stories don’t do that.

These stories are all you should have to bring to your boss, the one who only wants results. All you need to ask is, “Who do you want to be – Wolworth’s or Zappos?”

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