It’s funny to think how far we’ve come with technology since the days of dial-up when AOL ruled the world. With these changes, new rules are constantly developing. People are getting fired for their use of social media by large companies, and often hired because of their use of social media by small companies. Why is there such a disparity?
I don’t necessarily agree with prohibitions on social media, but I tried to think of why large companies are so myopic about their views on social media. With that, here is my list of 10 reasons why large companies are terrified of social media.
Note: This is a long article (I mean really long), consider bookmarking it by pressing CTRL + D so you can reference it in the future, or read it in pieces. It’s very interesting, I promise.
10. I’m So Mad: The Angry Employee
You would think that I would have put this at a higher position on my list, but Angry Employees aren’t the worst thing to deal with. There are tons of statistics out there about how much people hate their jobs, so while an angry employee might be kind of bad, it isn’t going to be a viral story.
Breaking news: Joe Schmoe doesn’t like his job! it’s the things an angry employee might do that have made it higher up on our list.
9. That’s Embarrassing: Leaky Information
This can be a huge problem. For a real world example consider the Wiki Leaks story. Lots of information, much of it classified is being released without clearance.
Needless to say, it has created some problems for the parties involved. This kind of problem can easily ruin a company, a product, or a strategy.
All it takes is one accidental mention, and the cat is out of the bag. Once something hits the internet, it’s out there for good.
With the way information is stored and syndicated, it is nearly impossible to ensure that there isn’t a record of it somewhere.
8. Bond, James Bond: Intelligence Gathering
Competitive intelligence is when a company tries to gather information on their competitor. It could be something as innocent as reading every press release a competitor sends out, to something as unethical as searching their trash. Inc Magazine has an excellent article about it in their April 2011 issue (which includes a real life example of garbage searching!).
It’s very easy for a competitor to watch your tweets, Facebook posts, and any other messages that you’re putting out there. With enough of that data, they can begin to see what you’re up to. Competitive intelligence is serious, there are even retired military intelligence officers that are hired into this profession, and some that have started their own business. Move over John Grisham, this stuff is real.
7. All About the Looks: Image Maintenance
Large companies want to look young, cool, and friendly or they want to look professional, honest, and mature. There are hundreds of meetings, many sheets of paper, and tons of drafts that go into building an image on paper. That process also requires large amounts of money.
What costs even more is building the brand that was laid out. TV and radio commercials, magazine and newspaper ads, employee training, and even location remodeling are all apart of this process. A single blog post, or tweet can send the whole thing into a tail-spin. All of the meetings, remodelings, and dollars in the world may not be enough to recover from a viral tell-all.
6. My Name Is John Smith: Anonymity
Companies hate anonymity. It allows people to speak without conscience and not be held accountable. This can cause information leaks, and huge image maintenance headaches. And while internet anonymity is a controversial subject in-and-of itself, large companies have huge roadblocks when it comes to trying to figure out who someone is.
It’s easy to make an anonymous twitter account with an anonymous email address, and say what you want. It’s far harder to subpoena all of the involved companies for their logs trying to track down who said what.
5. I Know You: Networking
Networking within a company is highly recommended – by the company. Networking outside of the company isn’t necessarily regarded as highly. The only time it will be is if you’re making contacts to drag in new business, but other than that, companies are worried about loss of talent, and competitors.
Networking with competitors is a huge problem and can lead to some of the other things on this list such as competitive intelligence, information leaks, and image maintenance problems. All a competitor needs is just a little dirt to start a smear campaign.
4. Just Like Flies: Small Competitors
Large companies wish they were small. That’s the truth, point-blank. They try to emanate small companies by promising “personalized service”, “local agents”, being “like a neighbor”, and promise that “you’ll be known by name.”
Heck, even some small companies have trouble delivering on the above promises, how can a blue chip do it without cheating? Back to the point, Large companies are afraid of being out maneuvered on social media. While they’re busy approving the latest Facebook wall post through legal, their smaller competitor can respond unrestrained, and unencumbered.
Smaller companies can write with passion, they can tweet with fire, and while it may not help in all cases, it certainly is more interesting than a watered-down, legally approved tweet about an “exciting” product offering. Wow, I’m on the edge of my seat! Small competitors have the edge in social media.
3. Who Moved My Cheese: Change
Large companies resist change. You’ll see tons of articles about how employees resist change, but I think large companies have a bigger problem with change than anyone/anything else. Maybe the reason is because they got big by doing what they always have, and deviation from that could wreck them.
Maybe the reason is because they are so big and lethargic that change is cumbersome and unpredictable at best. Regardless, changes are not handled well. Before they implement social media protocols, they’ll need to consult with legal, risk management, and the marketing departments. If approved, we’ll need to hire a strategist to work with marketing to figure out the best course of action.
Once a plan has been developed, we can appoint an executive tweeter who will manage the tweetlings. Each tweet will need to be vetted to ensure information integrity, and proper hashtags. Retweet requests need to be escalated to the executive tweeter for retweet approval. Any deviation from these rules can result up to and including termination.
2. Get Back To Your Cubicle: Productivity
Large companies love to appear cool, but many have a hollow shell that they call “culture.” See our reason above about “small competitors.” Large companies are quick to act like they embrace the latest technology trends, but they generally don’t. They might get a twitter account so no one squats the name, but they find little value in it, and consider it an unproductive use of time.
Large companies prefer to let the little, agile companies figure out if these tools are productive, and how they can be used productively before actually embracing them. Until then, they’ll feign interest to look like the cool kids.
1. They’re Watching: Paranoia
All of these reasons can be distilled down to one word: control. Companies are obsessed with control. They spend millions, if not billions trying to control their image through advertising, public relations, and various other marketing activities. Before social media, employees had far fewer public outlets to express their thoughts and opinions.
Large companies didn’t care about peoples’ diaries/journals, as those were private. Newspapers and magazines weren’t necessarily going to publish just anything from some employee. They could risk their reputation, and the advertising revenue from the company. Not to mention, some of the larger companies were the owners or stakeholders of those publications.
Those are the ten reasons that I think many large companies are terrified of social media. I think they need to loosen up a bit, but what do I know, I’m one of “them.” Who? Exactly, one of “them.”