Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Creating value for a business through Facebook friending and social media participation

Posted in social networking and business, Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on December 18, 2010

I frequently seem to find myself confronted with the same question. A simple variation on it may be asked as “how can Facebook or any other form of social media help my business?” This can also be asked as “how can friending people and being friended online add to my bottom line and in any way pay for the effort to do this?” These are valid questions and a quick and simple answer is that if you simply set up a business social networking page, or a profile, or an online networking group and start connecting – and do nothing else and act without strategy or planning, you will not see much if anything of a return on your investment of time, effort and money.

I will add here that even when this sort of question is couched in financial terms and as one about return on investment in a monetized sense, finance is often simply invoked as a justification for what amounts to an already made decision.

I have already posted on the budget and finance side of this twice recently with:

Marketing from a Web 2.0 core – part 4: the challenge of cost-effectiveness and
Marketing from a Web 2.0 core – part 5: the challenge of cost-effectiveness, continued.

I will add a little more to the financials side of this discussion in this posting but my focus here is going to be on a less easily quantified, and more difficult to address set of barriers to potential adaption of social media marketing. And this comes from the technology adaptation curve and comfort levels in using, let alone deploying new online technologies in a business. Bottom line, managers may raise financial and bottom line doubts when challenging the relevancy of social media to their business, but very often that is more post-hoc justification for decisions already made than anything else.

There are two fundamental sets of issues I need to turn to in this discussion and one of them I have already at least mentioned above: the new and emerging technology adaptation curve. When a new technology or technology application starts to emerge as an option there are always some few who will pick up on it as quickly as possible, and even while it is still in a beta testing development stage. Then more will pick up on it as it goes into initial “finished product” release and they are followed by still more adaptors. This pattern proceeds through mid-stage adaptors and it eventually comes to include participation of late stage and lagging adaptors.

The people in a business’ Information Technology department may include a higher percentage of early stage adaptors and certainly for information technology and online tools and features. That cannot always be said about the key stakeholders who run the departments and services that would perhaps even be the principle users of a new technology feature within their organization. For online and particularly with Web 2.0 and the interactive online experience and for anything like social media, these decision makers and gatekeepers are making decisions that affect:

• Thei r own staff and internal operations (e.g. internets, etc but capacity to meet their job goals and priorities), and
• The outside communities they may wish to reach out to. This, I add includes a lot more than just potential customers, as interactive online is crucial throughout supply and value chains.

A big and perhaps even the biggest barrier to adaptation may be in overcoming non-financial based resistance to early adaptation of a new technology per se. And for clarification purposes if nothing else in simply understanding the real issues here, I like to ask a question too.

• Setting business adaptation of this aside for the moment, what is your personal experience with this new technology like?

For anything like social media that is so widely used outside of the work context, this is a valid and even door-opening question. If the person asking about returns on investment has tried Facebook, for example but quickly came to loath the site as a seemingly endless cornucopia of email spam and clutter, that says one thing and an important one, raising issues that should be addressed anyway in how social media accounts are set up, configured and monitored. If the person raising these barrier questions has never tried social media, and I still run into executives who have not, this leads to some hands-on social media site training and mentoring where this stakeholder gets to see for themselves what the hype is all about.

I mentioned above that the technology adaptation curve is one of two fundamental sets of issues to cover here, and I now bring up the second: age-related technology adaptation.

The technology adaptation curve can be an overly simplistic model of a complex set of phenomena and certainly where it is interpreted to mean that individuals will always fit into the same position along that curve and for all technologies and for all adaptation circumstances. Someone may, for example, jump onto social media early as a personal practice but be very reluctant to import this into business operations, and for a variety of both technical and non-technical operational and policy-based reasons. That same potential for stereotypic oversimplification applies to age-correlated technology adaptation models as well, where there will always be older early adaptors and younger late or even lagging adaptors and for many reasons. But for online tools and technologies, and certainly for emerging social media capabilities, younger tend to adapt and even come to heavily rely on, a lot faster than older do.

Managers tend on average to be at least somewhat older than the workers they supervise and senior managers can be well past the age of the early adaptor clients and customers that they could potentially connect with through social media. So while this model may break down when looking at individuals and their decisions, simply playing by the numbers, more senior managers – adaptation gatekeepers in a business can be significantly behind the adaptation curve of the people they need to reach out to, and certainly for key target demographics.

Yes, I have a specific senior manager in mind as I write this, though I have seen this set of issues play out many times and in many organizations and contexts over the years. When someone immediately raises potential return on investment concerns when a new networking and communication channel such as social media comes up as a business option, address the expressed concerns but dig deeper to identify and address the rest of their concerns as well. These other factors and concerns may be the most important ones to resolve for them.

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