Welcome to the digital world: Advice to business social media late-comers

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In business, as in life, there are groups who are progressive, adventurous and open to new things like technology. In the grand scheme of things, those people are the ones with the newest mobile telephone, software application and entertainment device.

Remember Betamax tapes? Remember 8-track tapes? Remember the transition from transparencies to PowerPoint for presentations? It all starts somewhere.

According to the agricultural researchers Beal and Bohlen in the 1957 Everett Roger’s bell curve (featured in nation-wide communications conferences for as long as I have attended conferences) adoption of technology happens by a very slow growing curve that peaks with the arc of a bell as society adopts the technology.

Toward the end, the bell tapers off to create a downslope. The back end represents those people who may rarely or never adopt technology.

A little known fact about utilities, especially public ones: We tend to be on the back end of the whole adopting technology curve. Traditionally, public agencies are the most cautious about adopting new technology. After all, it’s something that might hurt as much as it can help. The same applies for social media. I know. I have polled my state and national public utilities communications counterparts.

Social media is a tool that professional communicators cannot ignore because, used correctly, it possesses the power to help business connect with stakeholders in meaningful and practical ways. By stakeholders, I mean customers, community and business partners. While the universal purpose for using social media is to connect with others, different sets of rules apply when using it for business.

Here are a few lessons learned about social media for business:

Remember social media is not on everybody’s radar–yet. Forbes Magazine (2017) says that those who are late comers to social media can still lay the groundwork by doing some simple planning like optimizing search engine words. If you are having a hard time understanding search engine optimization plan right now, not to worry. Here are some ways to start planning your business’s entry into social media.

1. Peer-to-peer research. Find out which business peers are using social media and ask for pros and cons. Ask about successes and failures.

Speaking with my peers at Austin Energy and San Antonio’s CPS Energy, I learned how they handle social media administrators, messaging and other potential minefields. They were open and shared ideas, tips and disaster stories to help us steer clear of potential problems.

2. Study the World Wide Web. Use the tools available online, like credible message boards, tutorials and how-to videos, to get up to speed on what you need to know and developing trends in social media. It helps. Taking time to find out the ways that others are using this tool can really help to make the most of its capabilities.

The BPUB is using it for notifying our customers about service outages, events, fraud alerts, scholarships and meetings. We are using YouTube to broadcast an informational bilingual video series and Vimeo to share whitelisted training or information content to our employees via a private channel.

3. Prepare. When you work for a public agency, it sometimes takes time to adopt new media because it is not executive management’s top priority. If you can make a good case about why your business or public entity needs to be on social media and give assurances about how much you can control your online presence, it will help to dispel any misgivings about going social. Be prepared to answer questions about how social media works, hacking, message control, and how social media insights and geo-targeting can benefit your business with low investment-high return advertising.

4. Build. If you are ready to build, start off small. Pay close attention to your content. Make it visual. Big action photos. Spellcheck everything. Keep posts brief and professional. The biggest hit to your business credibility are misspellings or baseless rhetoric, so be careful. As with conversation in any polite company, keep politics and religion out of your discussion feed. Celebrate your victories. Tell your stories.

Building in this sense also means building a presence in your community and building your followers. To do this, you also need to build relationships with your online community. No business is a silo, so don’t act like it. Find out what’s important to your online followers and deliver based on your expertise. Remember who your customers are, what language they speak and deliver posts with them in mind. If you have done a good job at this, they may come to see you as an industry thought leader.

The last piece of advice for businesses regarding using online social media: Social media will never be a replacement for face-to-face dialogue with your customer. Human interaction still wins in building trust and community.