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I Don’t Have Time For Social Media!

by David Brock on July 30th, 2010

The other day I was having dinner with a close friend.  He’s the President of a division of a company.  Eventually, the conversation got around to social media (is it something about me?).  He said, “Dave, I just don’t get it, you keep talking about social media and how important it is, but I just don’t get it, I don’t have time for it, my customers aren’t using it.

As we continued our conversation, he started saying, “I don’t have time to blog, I don’t have time to read blogs—even yours—and I really like your stuff (my ego was bruised a little), I don’t get twitter, Facebook is for kids….,”  he went on, “I’m overwhelmed by information, I don’t need more….,” the litany went on.  I just let him vent.

He is not unusual, I hear this from many senior executives.  I think it’s a result of not understanding what social media is and how they participate.  I think some of what causes this confusion is a caused by some of us who are relatively active in social media.

One of the problems with social media is there is too much of it… and there is too much junk.  I can see how executives and others get frustrated when they dip their toes into the social media pool.  There is a bit of a learning curve to figure out what you should be doing. 

However social media cannot be ignored—primarily because customers aren’t ignoring social media—not just consumers, but B2B customers.

Let me go on with my conversation.  We spoke a little about information overload.  I asked him, “How do you learn what’s on your customers’ minds?”  He jumped all over that, “It’s important to me, I talk to our sales guys, our applications engineers; I try to talk to customers as frequently as possible.”

“That’s great, “ I replied, “How many customers do you talk to a week?”

“Maybe 2-3, if I’m lucky,”  he responded.

“What trade events do you attend and publications do you read?”  I asked.

“Well, I try to make 1-2 of the key shows, every once in a while I skim one of the trade rags, but I really don’t have much time for them,” he responded.

I started to see a problem—and a potential for demonstrating the value of social media.

This executive is like many others I meet.  Somehow, everyday problems and events overtake us.  As much as we want to, we don’t get to spend as much time with customers, learning about customers, immersing ourselves in the industry and our markets, as we should.  We are overwhelmed with information, much of which does not increase our knowledge and understanding.

Nothing can take the place of getting information directly from customers, either in meetings or in calls.  The sales organization and others involved with customers on a daily basis are important sources of information.  The reality, however, is this ultimately provides a very limited perspective.  Top executives need to cast a wider net.

In the “old days—remember way back to the turn of the century—2000,” I would consume as many trade magazines I could.  Since I was on planes a lot, I always carried a bag filled with them.  I’d skim them on the plane and leave them in the pocket of the seat in front of me for the reading pleasure of the next passenger.  In those “old days,”  I’d subscribe to these specialized clipping services—they’d aggregate news and stories, based on my criteria.  I’d attend conferences and trade shows, I’d do everything I could to be listening to the markets, industry, customers.

Every executive needs to “listen” as much as possible—understanding what’s happening with customers, their problems, where they are going, what’s happening.  Every executives needs to make time to listen.

However, this is where social media comes in, there are so many powerful tools that help you listen.  There are tools to that help fit your information consumption needs to your own personal style and time commitments.  There are great news consolidators like InsideView and Hoovers.  There are numerous blogs—covering every topic imaginable, some consolidating industry and market information, others by industry thought leaders.  There are all sorts of readers that enable you to consolidate much of this information, presenting  a custom, real time clipping service.  Even tools like Twitter, searching on certain topics, key words, give an interesting snapshot of the conversations happening among your customers and competitors.

What about the issue, “my customers” are not there—using social media?  I think this is really wrong!  In this specific case, I had an unfair advantage with this client.  I had spoken to his marketing, product management, sales, and support people.  They said all their customers were all over the web.  They cited all sorts of discussion groups, news sites, activity at their own web site, and other things.  Their customers are technical people who leverage the web for gathering information on issues, solutions, suppliers….  While my experience base may be limited, I have not found an industry in which similar things are happening.  It may not be the CXO blogging, writing, or being interviewed, but in every sector I look, people are leveraging the web as a primary source of information and to screen potential suppliers.

Listening to customers is critical for every business professional—first we have to make the time to listen and immerse ourselves in our customers.  Social media provides a tremendous tool to leverage your listening—but it’s just a starting point. 

My advice to this executive and all others in the same situation is social media is critical in leveraging your listening productivity.  There is a bit of ramp up time in discovering the credible sources and sorting through the junk, but once you’ve done that, it gives tremendous insight.  Start with listening, over time you will also see more that social media can do.

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9 Comments
  1. Dave, I agree with you.

    I thought about banks and how they’ve changed over the years. I’m sure many of their customers said they would never use an ATM machine when they could walk into a branch and get personalized service from a teller. The banks still installed the ATMs and now many people never transact with their bank any other way. Now they provide online banking and a certain amount of people only bank that way. Some customers may use each method at some time.

    To communicate effectively today, you must communicate with your customers and potential customers in the medium that they prefer. Otherwise, you could become the slide rule in the age of calculators – dating me.

    • Kevin, thanks for the comment. I’d add that our customers will be communicating with us or seeking information across a variety of channels — social media — and other. We have to be communicating with them across all those channels, making sure we are consistent and that we engage them.

      Thanks for the great comment and for joining the conversation.

  2. Dave, really good post.

    It’s interesting how far apart opinions can be–senior solid managers on the one hand, and bright new folks on the other.

    What’s amazing is that this level of ‘apartness’ exists at the same time there are such large amounts of overlap. You did a very nice job in that conversation identifying what those common interests are, and how you can get new wine into old jugs.

    You didn’t intend to overtly, but my guess is you’re also showing the new wine folks the value of old bottles at the same time.

    • Charlie: You really do have a way with words! I do hope the social media zealots realized that not all the action is “here,” but a tremendous amount is and will be out there. Master oenologists use both the old and new techniques. As always, thanks for your insight!

  3. Hank permalink

    David,
    GREAT post!
    I believe the people not seeing the value in Social Media are ones who choose not to listen. (They probably aren’t listening to their customers now, although they provide great lip-service to saying they do!)
    Early adopters of the technology want to be better and do whatever it takes to get better. (A better value for their customers, training their people, creating word of mouth campaigns, developing a product worthy of a WOM campaign!)
    These are people who “Get it” and want to “Get it!” Too many people just want to “Sell something.” Through their sales people knocking on doors and cold calling – something will be sold, but when an evangelist talks about your product or blogs on it or mentions it on Twitter and creates two more evangelists… well you already know this.
    My point: B2C comes first then B2B is an 80/20 thing – If I listen on the “Social Media radio” I can hear what my customers, potential customers and in many cases what my competitors are saying! I can reach the masses and then I find my sub-set of “Buyers” or mavens who can help me get my message to more people and so-on. It does take time and as you mention “You have to separate the wheat from the chaff”, but as a sales person, I do that everyday. Social media is simply a tool not “THE tool” or some “Ultimate rainmaking machine” simply another tool to be used along with myriad of others in our tool box.

    • Hank: Thanks for the great comment! Social media is just another tool. It offers great power and potential, but should be used wisely, as a complement to our traditional tools. I agree with your learning curve perspective. b2C is very active now, a social media presence beyond listening is critical in B2C. In B2B, it’s moving faster than I would have ever forecast. Those who aren’t at least listening are missing tremendouse oppportunities. Every organization needs to have a strong social media strategy. Every business professional should have some personal/professional social media strategy.

      Thanks for your insight and for joining the conversation! Regards, Dave

  4. Arief Rasyad permalink

    Hi Dave,

    I couldn’t agree more, we can’t avoid our selves and organization from social media as we cant avoid the globalization. all we need to to is just be smart on filtering the information

    rgds,
    Arief

    • Arief: Thanks for joining the conversation. You make a great point. Learning how to access the information intelligently and filter it is the key to getting started–and getting value from social media. Thanks for making that point, it’s an important addition to the conversation. Regards, Dave

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