If you've been following this column for a while, you know that I forcefully advocate for marketers to adopt social media strategies to engage in conversations with their audiences. The rise of sophisticated and inexpensive tools, combined with the stunning decline of mainstream media, presents unprecedented opportunities.
But social media isn't for everyone. So here are a few scenarios in which marketers should tread carefully, if not avoid a social media strategy altogether.
You're in a high-ticket business. If you can count your customers on your fingers and toes, and if those customers spend tens of millions of dollars with you each year, you're probably better off using the phone, the golf course and the dinner table to deliver your message. This also goes for financial services firms with wealthy customers who prefer to keep their activities—and that of their financial advisers— private.
You fight with your employees. I recently consulted for a client in the heavy equipment industry. More than 80% of its work force is unionized, and management-labor strife is a constant. This is not an environment for encouraging direct interactions between employees and customers. While opening up the lines of communication may work in industries with a motivated and highly technical work force, it's a potential disaster if employees use that channel to trash management.
Management skepticism. In a recent study of 50 early adopters of Web 2.0 technology, McKinsey & Co. concluded that the key characteristic of successful organizations was high-level support. Social media strategies demand transparency, and employees accustomed to years of careful message filtering are understandably suspicious of being asked to speak openly. If management doesn't encourage and reward participation, the initiative will fail.
Strategic vacuum. One of the most common mistakes marketers make is to launch a social media campaign without having any idea what they're trying to accomplish. Very often this approach is driven by fascination with a tool, but tools are no good unless you know what to do with them. If you don't have an objective, then you don't know what to measure, which means you have no way to determine success. Your social media project will be cut in the next round of belt-tightening. And an objective shouldn't be to launch a product or distribute a press release. If you do it right, conversations should continue for years.
Privacy and regulatory concerns. While a few health care companies have started blogs and social networks, most are proceeding with justifiable caution. If you're in an industry where people can go to jail for what they say in public, you should be careful. Much as I hate to say it, you should probably get the lawyers closely involved.