How to Overcome Social Media Scare Tactics

The rapture of social media paralyzes some brands
Recently, I’ve spoken to a few large brands that have been getting the sermon from a few social media consultants about damnation to hell if they don’t convert. These type of scare tactics include suggesting radical change need to occur for brands to join the conversation, as well as handing over all control to the marketplace, should everyone in marketing can pack up and go home early?

Most brands aren’t firing their marketing group
In reality, this is rarely the case, (well cept for Dell, and a few others who had trial by fire) most brands slowly adopt these tools and the communication changes that happens, and I’ve never seen a brand completely turn over messaging control to the marketplace completely, have you? While there certainly are changes afoot, as technology impacts progress, there are course corrections happening at many companies, but I’ve yet to meet one CMO who’s fired the MarCom and Communications team in lieu of a team of external bloggers.

For conservative brands, take a pragmatic approach
Instead, perhaps the best way for conservative brands to move forward is to focus on three things:

1) Understand if their marketplace is using these tools, and how. First see if your prospects, decision makers or influencers are using these tools, do a study first, take inventory.
2) Next, have a goal, or an objective, rather than jumping in rather than being pushed in because someone else lit you on fire. Don’t allow fear to be the sole driver of your decisions, instead, focus on what success will look like.
3) Experiment internally with these tools where it’s safer, where mistakes can happen without the ridicule of the public looking on.

Focus on clear business strategy rather than allowing someone to light you on fire
While there are certainly changes happening in communication and marketing, this doesn’t mean you throw out the playbook, and react. Instead, for conservative or risk averse cultures, focus on understanding the changes in your market build a plan and experiment where it’s safe. When you look at moments of great change, see how history remembers the difference between radicals sand revolutionaries.

Let’s be objective, there’s a lot of challenges (and opportunities) with the social media industry, I’m cataloging them and tagging them ‘challenges‘.

22 Replies to “How to Overcome Social Media Scare Tactics”

  1. Excellent prescription. The notion that there are consultants out there using scare tactics is despicable, but not entirely unexpected–some use fear as a motivator, some use information. Information takes a lot longer to convert to a “sale,” so by default, fear takes a lead role.

    Bottom line: there are few companies that currently have the same social media exposure “mix” that Dell does. There’s a reason that “Dell Hell” comes up over, and over, and over, and over again as an example. It’s compelling, and there’s a direct line between the risk and opportunity. There are other examples of companies who have used social media effectively to turn things around, but those examples don’t pack the same “fear tactic” punch that the Dell Hell story does. I am now starting to wonder if consultants will continue to use this as what appears to be their only concrete example–and wonder at what point companies are going to say, “yes, heard that, give me something else.”

    It’s okay for companies with less exposure to take their time and listen, learn, and get things right. There are others who might listen, and monitor social media, and *not* engage–and that’s fine too, if it fits with their market, customers, and objectives.

    Saying that every company needs to be in this space at the same level does a disservice to consultants–it means that they are looking at every client in the same way, which is pure folly. Every client is different.


  2. I am disheartened to hear about the arrogance of some social media consultants. The companies that I am talking to seem pretty aware that social media needs to be added to the communications toolbox, and that it will evolve over time, over new applications, etc. Of course, I am not trying to get myself a consulting gig, I am looking to help them from the inside.

    EMC is actually a great case example of your steps. They have initially taken an internal approach with goals in mind, and are now moving externally. It seems to be successful for them.

  3. The battle between the need to innovate (join the conversation) and the fear to do so, seems worst in the B2B sector. Many CMOs are aware of social media, but they have no understanding of where and how B2B conversations are taking place. I know, at least, that as a marketer I am not sure either. This lack of understanding creates fear that requires and requires great openness to risk taking.

    Your advice in this post will help CMOs understand how taking risks can be guided by reflecting on business goals and acquiring experience in social media by personally joining the space.

  4. @jowyang,

    Bravo — tight post, good man!

    I’m still shocked by the complete lack of awareness most corporations have for the social media tools at their immediate disposal!

    This probably comes about for two reasons:

    1) I don’t consult for Web2.0 in the Czech Republic.
    2) I’m using two-oh all day long, so it’d seem counterintuitive for me not to be in the space.

    This hit the nail on the head. And I tweeted Chi’s link you supplied in the post. Kudos!


  5. Amen, Jeremiah. Sad to say, but FUD hasn’t gone out of style.

    I completely agree with Robin. Brands of all sizes are indeed well aware that social media needs to be added to the communications toolbox and that it will evolve over time.

    I would take it a step further and suggest that much of the fear comes from a sense of being behind the curve. Many of the companies we talk with simply don’t have any plans (yet) to get started in social media, or are only just getting their feet wet. There’s nothing wrong with that, either. It’s just the pace of doing business.


    I am a Blog Council employee and this is my personal opinion.

  6. This is indeed a solid post.

    My perception is that there has been a definite shift from early 2007 to 2008 and the shift has moved from ‘just experiment’ to ‘develop a strategy, an implementation plan, and an expected result’. Not that everyone just experimented but there was a feeling that just get on board and ‘let it evolve’.

    Isn’t this the normal maturing process? So, even though some of us still consider this a young industry, we seem to be moving to a more solid business planning process before we jump on board.

    And, of course the economy is having an impact on that also, so the ‘experimentation’ $$$ are more limited. Now it is ‘show me the plan’ – probably better for social media in the long run.

    diane davidson

  7. Great advise. The scare tactics are just another example of the “silver bullet” mentality, and a way for the consulting party to create an impending doom sales close opportunity.

    The social media brand opportunities are huge, but still require touch point strategy planning, and strategic alignment with efforts company wide.

    With so many emerging social media channels, I think it often leaves brands paralyzed with fear that they will choose the wrong channel, or one that quickly becomes outdated (agree with Michael). A discovery analysis of social media channel options helps, and will provide a good road map for a slow, strategic move into the space.

    Scott Templar

  8. Diane Davidson

    Yes this is a normal part of the process, but for some companies, scare tactics cause the opposite desired reaction.

    Good insight Scott, thanks.

  9. Good, common sense advice, Jeremiah. Thanks (again).
    Scare tactics will come back to haunt the more arrogant of the social-media consultants. Why? Because measurement will come home to roost. When the CMO (or the CEO) doesn’t see hard numbers associated with all that new media investment, those consultants will get thrown under the bus. You can’t dive into new media without setting expectations with clients after carefully laying out the rationale that you guys have described so succinctly. New media tools and techniques aren’t a panacea, but they’re can’t be ignored either.
    The other thing I’ve come across that’s really striking: in some cases adoption of social media approaches is being driven from the CEO’s office, rather than the CMO or the communications department. The rank and file is still leery without a thumbs-up from above.

  10. On the flip side, there are a lot of small companies and niche industries that have gutted their marketing infrastructure to the point that it is little more than a collateral factory for the sales force. I’m talking to companies every week that are wondering why their news releases aren’t getting picked up by the press or even read online by customers. All of these opportunities are absolutely screaming for a social media program that fits into a very tight budget.

    Social media coonsultants should back off trying fro the big score and come up with cost-effective packages. There is good that can be done in small steps.

  11. Some nice points Jeremiah.

    I think it would be really interesting to categorise or segment companies based on their attitude towards engaging with social media. Your colleagues at Forrester produced a great model of measuring individuals appetite to engage; socio-technographics.

    I think it would be really interesting to consider a similar model for business – there are those actively promoting blogging, creating user communities etc, at one extreme, while at the other, some companies firewall blogs, preventing their employees from knowing what is being said. I can see a nice model that categorises companies based on their engagement with social media. It would be particularly interesting to see how the breakdown changes over time. A nice project for Forrester?

  12. Hi Jeremiah,
    This is amazing, yet I cringe a bit too…

    I’m working with a client who asked for advice on social media tools available for an unveiling taking place this morning. I think my overview of all of the options probably put the cart before the horse. In future (even with this client), I’ll be sure to find a comfort level and match that to the overall goal/strategy.

    Even though we all run around so much, I feel it’s good to slow down the demos/tools overview, let it sink in, and see what a client likes and can believe in. Comfort level with social media tools is critical.

    If they aren’t comfortable with the latest fashions, folks won’t even try them on.
    Cheers, Adam

  13. Small (or not) consulting companies focused on 2.0 things are on the edge and they do need business not to crash. Maybe one reason 2.0 centric consultants are using scare tactics. They’re coming too early for fortune 5000 companies and aren’t needed for new companies that have the 2.0 tatooed on their forehead. Moreover scare tactic seems to be easier to feel oneself smart and having a relevant speach than doing homeworks and looking at ROI calculation and campaigns analyses to show the added value they generated for a CPG/ tech/ pharma or other business fields.

    But one thing’s questioning me Jeremiah, why are you talking about “CMO who™s fired the MarCom and Communications team in lieu of a team of external bloggers”? Social media isn’t just about bloggers, you know it well enough 🙂 (to answer your question though, 1 company did disband its marketing team, Ducati, and then create a community management team, maybe with the same team…). We don’t kick out MarCom or Comm dept, we do need them for other channels.

  14. It feels like the transformation of marketing groups would be to integrate PR, Marcom, Communications, Community Management etc. into the social media programs and adapt their roles accordingly. There most likely will remain a mix of both traditional media and new conversation media in the marketing arsenal. I think one problem is that many marcom-types will not change or adapt easily as their careers have been single tracked for so long. So its Darwinism in play again..

  15. Jeremiah,

    It is very sad to see social media advocates trying to utilize scare tactics to gain entrance into working with major brands. From my experience clients mainly want to put their foot in the water before fully becoming immersed in social media marketing. Initially, companies are afraid of being transparent online because they have a feeling of losing control of what’s being said about theirs brands; although they were never fully in control of how consumers were interacting with them online. But, after initial testing and research they are able to see that they need to jump into this space now rather than be outpaced by their competition in the near future. That said, helping companies see the value in truly reaching new clients via the social media space online is paramount to any companies future universal success online. Most of my experience comes with working with conservative brands and I think you hit the nail on the head when you said, “For conservative brands, take a pragmatic approach”. These types of companies need to see the value in what social media consultants can bring way before they place their toes in the water. I look forward to reading more of your posts regarding social media from a corporate standpoint!

  16. In a fast paced world, where customers’ search and buy products thro’ multi-channels, marketers have to take action based on customer behavior realtime. Analytics tends to be back-end but it has to move and adapt to this new world order in marketing even if means companies start doing simple things well. It’s about getting back to basics first.

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