Marshall Manson, director of digital at PR agency Edelman, says brands must control their fear of social media

Big businesses have risk aversion coded into their DNA. Structurally and culturally, they are often incapable of making a brave choice, and the right decision for any middle manager in a big corporation is almost always to do nothing.

In the communications and marketing disciplines, this manifests itself in truisms like the one that I heard a client repeat recently: “No one ever got fired for making a TV ad,” he said in the midst of our meeting. And while I’m sure I could find more than one chief marketing officer who moved quietly into ‘consulting’ after a failed ad campaign, that isn’t really the point.

Fear can be a healthy thing. It keeps us from taking risks that might imperil ourselves. But when fear holds us back from necessary progress, its utility disappears, and it’s simply an obstacle.

When it comes to social media, fear of doing something new, something unproven, or something different from what they did last year is holding many companies back.

For some, it stands in the way of doing anything at all. Others have established a Facebook presence, but with their wall limited to broadcasting their own messages and their discussion boards deactivated. And how many companies have started Twitter feeds, but only to broadcast links to their press releases?

This behaviour is understandable, and no one should suggest that organisations with control and order as their founding purposes are going to wade into the disorderly anarchy of conversation overnight. They fear doing, but what they fail to appreciate is that they should equally fear doing nothing.

In every sector and every vertical, some businesses are changing their behaviour and getting more engaged. People’s expectations for businesses are changing.

Sitting still – making that uncontroversial decision to do nothing – now means falling behind.

So what do you fear? And what should you fear? Consider a couple of examples:

  • Are you blocking access to social networking sites because you fear your staff will waste working time? You should fear that your best employees will soon leave because you don’t trust them and you treat them like children.
  • Do you limit dialogue on your web properties and Facebook page because you’re afraid someone will criticise you? They’re doing it anyway. And you should fear what they’re saying, and the perceptions they’re shaping that you have no ability to influence.

There are many more.

Still, the bottom line is simple: If you’re going to let fear drive your decision making, that’s fine. But make sure you know what to fear.

Marshall is the Digital Director of Edelman. He will be wrting a regular column for PRmoment.com.


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