“The dream is always the same,” as Tom Cruise said in Risky Business.
I’m sitting in my boss’s office nervously. She is waving some papers around as I squirm. She looks me right in the eyes and says:
“You’ve been on Twitter and Facebook and the message boards and blogs. You’ve seen the crazy things people post there.”
Yes, I nod.
“And you’re saying that we should get involved? Without moderating the comments or controlling the message in any way?”
“My G-d, you must be crazy. You are going to take us all down. You’re fired.”
This nightmare is a composite of everything I have absorbed about organizations and their decision-making processes about engaging in social media. And I mean a LOT of organizations over the course of the past 7 years, both anecdotally and as viewed through the filters of traditional and social media.
I am by nature a risk-averse person when it comes to work. I’m not a trust fund baby; just like everyone else I need to eat. But I also follow my mind and my gut when it comes to suggesting what will work. Not just because it seems to me the right thing to do, but because long-term you can’t produce effective PR and be a liar, or out of touch, or inefficient.
So I find myself caught in this really weird situation, where I’m advocating for the adoption of something that is – absolutely no doubt about it – going to cause people’s heads to roll. Because if in the past you could make mistakes and cover them up, social media deliberately lays them bare, so as to make people trust you before they find out and decide that you’re a snake. But using social media, like investing in the stock market, brings risk along with potential return: Sometimes those who screw up, or who simply decide to speak their minds without a filter, can and do get canned.
The result, if you do it with commitment and integrity, is increased credibility; a demonstration of real, ongoing accountability; and greater responsiveness to customer needs.
I am not the first person to explain social media this way. There are tons of us out there, all spreading the word. Including many seemingly "old-fashioned" executives. But since the proof is in the pudding, if you look around you at what passes for official corporate social media, you will find very little in the way of filter-free independent speech and very much in the way of glorified marketing brochures.
I know that a lot of people really do "get it," even if they can't implement everything they know to be right. And I know that the future will be better than today. We will all look back on the day when social networking was viewed as suspicious time-wasting dillydallying and be really, really surprised. Sort of like looking back on 8-track cassettes. With a mindset that says, "How did we ever exist without that?" Social media is a completely different approach to life. It truly, truly is.
We are now in an age when information is shared so quickly that if you respond an hour after a Tweet spreads, you are literally behind the curve. The technology is moving so fast that people don’t need to access Facebook from their desktop computers anymore – they can simply reach out via their smartphones.