When Social Media Outreach Becomes an Obligation

One of the most fascinating things about social media is how businesses are inventing new ways to capitalize on its potential to meet unique objectives they set relevant to their own verticals.

Few thought prior to the explosion of this medium that using it to connect with communities would permeate so quickly to virtually every corner of the world. However, as with most new communication platforms that have evolved over the last century, some are slow to adopt for a number of reasons – be it lack of education, lack of resources, lack of perceived relevance or simply plain old ignorance.

Despite these reasons, the one difference that social media acceptance has over all of its communication predecessors is that choosing not to participate or being slow to adopt is increasingly perceived by communities as a snub to their preferred method of engagement.

I recently wrote an article for Healthcare Executive on how the healthcare industry stands to lose more than declines in patient safety and negative impacts to their budgets from not participating in social media especially to proactively communicate for crisis communcations that a medical data breach can present. I pointed out in the article that, “If healthcare organizations don’t steer the communication ship to acknowledge errors and possible repercussions (resulting from medical data breaches), someone else surely will.” When I posted the article on my Facebook page, one of my friends Laura Keeney commented:

“I agree with the premise of this article…for health care as well as for any business out there that provides a crucial service to the general public. Companies that develop relationships with their clients have their finger on the pulse of the customer climate. They can immediately, and (perhaps more importantly) accurately respond to anything that could potentially become a PR snafu.”

As Laura points out, businesses (especially those that provide crucial services to the community – e.g. healthcare, financial services, utilities, government) seem to be obligated to participate in communication mediums that promote transparency, demonstrate empathy and uphold honesty.

Many businesses that haven’t embraced the social media paradigm figure that social media users hold views largely unrepresentative of the general public. That may be a valid argument but is it an excuse to ignore a medium that can single handedly shift the tide of sentiment on an issue from one extreme to another? Shouldn’t businesses use social media to reach the minority who have clearly demonstrated through message amplification that they can rally support and awareness from the masses who otherwise may be naïve about the impact of positive and negative events?

We talk a lot in business about the lifetime value of a customer and how to capture and develop relationships that nurture this phenomenon. Customer loyalty is a hard fought battle in the business world and once it’s secured, it takes a monumental effort to cultivate and maintain those relationships. Seth Godin recently wrote on his blog that, “the ongoing, digital connection with a customer can dramatically increase the lifetime profit” of that customer.

Can businesses who have been slow to adopt or flat out ignored social media as a communication channel really afford to sit on the sidelines as others use it to engage communities that serve them and work towards building the coveted lifetime value of a customer? When exactly does participation in social media move from the world of “wait and see” to “obligation?”

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