Passive Engagement in Social Media Doesn’t Deliver

By · Monday, March 28th, 2011

How to scale social media for small business and how to bridge the social divide is a common question I get from small business owners.  While all seem to agree that social media is a person-to-person connection or human connections and interactions, many companies do not engage on that level choosing to push content in the same more traditional manner ala broadcast such as TV, Print and Radio. In an interesting post, David Armano said

The gap itself is bridged by participation, meaning that a company empowers PEOPLE to engage and interact with other PEOPLE. This means public and private conversations, activity in comments and a commitment to be responsive in real time.

Passive Social Media | Gary D. Cohen

Passive Social Media. Great original resting image from adjusted in Photoshop.

People often write about companies getting out of the starting blocks with social media.  It got me thinking that participation means different things to different people.  Forrester talks about 5 levels of being active in social media: Creators, Critics, Collectors, Joiners and Spectators (who may be defined as inactives.) There is a difference what small business owners think as many want to focus on the brand and not themselves or their people.  But all of the roles defined are people roles.  And it is important that the person is known and and that the personal contact and connection is maintained and built for the relationship to be productive.

While many small business owners see themselves as active participants in social media because they post a blog, or a status update or broadcast a tweet, or broadcast updates about your company or post offers, this is not what active participation is about.  You would never walk up to a friend and interrupt them with a quick update on your store or shove an offer in front of them and walk away without having a conversation!  Why would you do it online??!!  IMHO – you are worse off if you do that because you turn off your friends and fans. You can’t be half pregnant!

It is about joining and being a part of a conversation where the customers can engage with you.  It is about sharing and engaging with consumers and most importantly listening more than you speak.  Because that way you truly hear what people want – and they will tell you – be they consumers of your content or information today and consumers of your product when that tomorrow may come.

Having worked in the banking world, most banks never allowed anyone to speak to the press unless they were media trained in case someone spilled the dirty about the establishment.  NEWSFLASH – people spread the word anyway through conversations offline and online, tghorugh twitter, facebook, personal blogs, message boards, email, etc.  A reason for the limits was also concern about sharing inside information.  Many banks are stepping in and doing it in ways that work for them.  And with that some have hired some big guns (Citibank and Frank Eliason formerly the Social Media and Communications maven at Comcast) to help them enter and navigate waters that they have seen as quite dangerous previously. Stay tuned for some new ways of enabling communities through social capabilities that will facilitate customer service through Twitter-like and Facebook-like capabilities behind secure bank connections.

If banks can get there, so can you.

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