Speculation abounds when visible social media decisions are made, and it can be really easy to jump to conclusions based on precious little information. Especially from our really cheap seats over here on Twitter and Facebook and through the lens of an online article or two.
Facebook Ads Don’t Work?
Most recently, GM made some waves by pulling their advertising dollars away from Facebook, which amounted to $10mm – a fraction of their overall $1.8 billion dollar annual ad spend. The chatter on the web piped up immediately, coming to sweeping conclusions like “Facebook ads don’t work, clearly” or “Facebook ads absolutely work, it’s just that GM’s social media strategy is clearly flawed.”
Could you draw the conclusion that their strategy might have been shortsighted and their ads not well tied in with larger initiatives? Sure. You could just as easily draw the conclusion that they have a brilliant team of people that integrated advertising well, but that it’s not an optimal channel for them so they’ve decided to invest the money in another area of their business that’s performing better. Their CMO Joel Ewanick said that the company “is definitely reassessing our advertising on Facebook, although the content is effective and important.” (emphasis mine.)
The only really safe conclusion to draw from this: GM has determined that right now, that $10mm spent on Facebook isn’t the best solution for them, given whatever other choices and priorities they have going on. Drawing larger conclusions about Facebook’s advertising efficacy or the strength of GM’s social programs would be speculation at best.
Social Customer Service Failure?
Another smaller company made waves on their Facebook page recently because they told their fans not to leave negative comments on their page, but instead directed them to a customer service phone number. By most accepted and pure social media standards, that’s a no-no. The idea is to listen to the feedback, and deal with it in the medium where it’s presented to you, being present where your customers are.
But what if the company is making a difficult but strategic move to direct customer support inquiries through channels where they know they can handle the demand? Perhaps they’re still shoring up their social infrastructure and operations and simply don’t have the capacity to monitor Facebook for the inevitable – and highly time sensitive – customer complaints, so they’re attempting to shift them to a channel they know is backed with sufficient resources.
My opinion? Reading the way their post was worded, I may have put it a little differently if that was my goal (their wording may have been a bit…direct, and focused on the negative). Rather than saying “please do not post negative comments here”, I might have opted for “If we’ve disappointed you, we want to make sure we make it right immediately. While we work to improve our ability to handle customer service through our Facebook page, please keep this phone number handy so we can help you in a timely fashion when something goes awry.”
They still might have ended up with some crabby fans on Facebook, but the intent to be helpful would come through, and their community would know that Facebook was important to them – eventually – when they knew they would be able to do it right.
Here’s the upshot. Social Business Evolution is Difficult.
It’s easy to stand in judgment of a company from a distance, not having to be in the trenches with their situation, finances, culture, or operational challenges. But there are sometimes very legitimate business reasons for doing things that don’t appear to be inherently social from the outside. In fact, one of the biggest challenges for companies making this shift is bridging the gap between where they are today and where they’d like to be tomorrow. Their strategic plans might show a beautiful, well-oiled machine weaving social through every aspect of the business…in three years.
But today, there are very real limitations when organizations aren’t designed optimally for the flow of that information, or when their cultures haven’t made the leap to enlightenment overnight. These kinds of changes – changes of fundamental business process and mindset – are not switches that can be flipped easily. They take time and methodical planning to ensure that the business that exists today can survive in parallel while the business of tomorrow adapts and emerges in a more social light.
We can help do our part to smooth the transition to the social era by asking questions before making judgments about the companies who are trying to make these changes. Are there reasons that might be lurking that we can’t see? Is it really an “epic fail”, or simply a misstep that needs acknowledgment and correction on a complex road to change? Do we understand all the circumstances surrounding a decision, a strategy, or even a campaign? It’s no wonder many businesses still shudder in fear when we suggest they wade into these murky and rapidly-moving waters.
Evolution and transformation is a messy process, and the businesses that are taking risks, trying new things and experimenting with a new perspective just the way we want them to have probably earned a little bit of patience, tolerance, and even some critical thinking that puts our feet in their shoes and considers the complexity of transforming a business into a social business through their eyes.
Because a social business that makes the shift – even through some crunchy parts – ultimately is a business that is better aligned with their customers, partners, and employees for the long term. And isn’t that what we’re asking for?