Is Social Media Really Helping Your Business Grow?

Six businessmen and businesswomen looking at laptop on boardroom tableDuring another one of my random midday reads of interesting social media news and tidbits, I came across this fantastic BusinessWeek poll of CMOs. The big takeaway for me was that most CMOs think social media agencies are completely full of s***. Most agreed that those agencies have a pretty good understanding of what can be done with social media, the CMOs that were polled also noted that many of the social media agencies they have dealt with have no clue about business, the nuances of their client’s industry, who their clients’ competitors are or how social media can help a business get ahead of its competitors.

Throughout all of the many discussions we all have about social media, the one thing I am continuing to see lost in the conversations is the fact that yes, it’s awesome to proactively and reactively engage with your customers through social media and help them become more engaged with your company. But if social media isn’t doing much to help your business get ahead of its competitor(s), then what good is it really doing in the long run?

Granted, this question is best geared toward businesses that are situated within certain industries, and probably does not apply to non-profits, many of which have a primary goal of directly engaging their constituents, donors and key influencers.

That small caveat notwithstanding, if social media is not helping you get ahead and stay ahead of your competitors and actually grow your business, is it really worth the immense resources and time that need to be devoted to doing social media right?

Recently, I read a post in US News & World Report’s “Alpha Consumer” Blog detailing how consumers react to companies using social media. The piece noted that many consumers are sometimes put off by companies that engage them via social media, mostly because the engagement comes with a sharp marketing perspective. In other words, companies are tweeting people or providing offers on their Facebook fan page as a means to gain a buck or two first, and then build a loyal consumer and follower later (maybe). Bruce Temkin, vice president of customer experience at Forrester Research, put it best in the US News piece:

The key is making the communication seem real—not like advertising. Tony Hsieh (CEO of Zappos) is an avid social media user, so he can communicate in a way that’s authentic. It’s a different story when other executives start using social media just because they’ve been told that they need to do it.

That last line from Temkin is key, in my opinion: using social media just because they’ve told that they need to do it. That’s really the crux of the BusinessWeek CMO poll. So many of these social media agencies come to meetings with CEOs and clients saying that so-and-so in the company needs a Twitter account and the company MUST have a big, fancy Facebook fan page, and that the social media agency will run that account. That’s all well and great, but if the agency doesn’t provide some guidance as to WHY the CEO should be on Twitter and the proper way to engage with his or her followers, rather than just try to always sell or market them something, then really, what good is it doing for the company?

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