social media leap of faith

Social media seems to simultaneously intrigue and terrify a lot of businesses. They love the idea of their message and brand going viral and being cheerfully spread throughout the land by their adoring customers (at no incremental cost to the company). The problem is, they also want to control 100% of the message and when they find out they can’t control the message, they don’t want to play.

It’s a silly argument that is perpetual, redundant, cliché, and not going away: What if people say bad things about us? What if they hurt our brand? The response is just as obvious, cliché, and not going away: People are already saying bad things. And they are saying good things. The leaders of these companies are scared because they can’t control the conversation. They can’t control what others are saying.

What they aren’t seeing is that social media is not all or nothing. It’s not “we control the message or we won’t play at all.” The conversation is happening regardless. Pretending it doesn’t exist does nothing to stop the damage; does nothing to build the brand; does nothing to create strong relationships with customers.

That’s the key, isn’t it? In the past, the business / customer relationship was one-way. We used simplemindedly archaic terms like “customer loyalty” as though our customers owed the business something. It’s not a top down relationship like from commander to the troops or from dictator to the masses. It’s a relationship of peers and equals. Both parties have something the other party wants and values. Both parties can benefit from or be hurt by the relationship.

In Richard Bach’s book Illusions there is a story of an underwater society that clings to the bottom of a river so they won’t get battered by the current. One day, one of them, against all traditional wisdom, let go. He was initially tumbled and bruised as he was forced along by the current. But then, after this painful start, his journey smoothed out and we was swept along with, rather than against, the river. Suddenly, there was a freedom never experienced before. (I’m going solely from memory, but that’s the gist that stuck with me.)

I suspect that letting go of the idea that we must control the conversation is a very similar leap of faith. We have to let go and stop pretending that the conversation is always one-sided and people don’t say things about us. When we first listen, learn, and seek out what is being said it probably feels like we’re being hit with the full force of the current. Painful, chaotic, out of control. It’s a leap of faith.

But then, if we realize the tremendous power in actual two-way conversation, where we can respond and influence, instead of duck, cover, and retaliate, it smooths out. We shift from controlling very narrow messages to expanding and influencing and flowing with much larger discussions and conversations. The relationship changes and becomes much more potent for it.

Ultimately, I believe that influence is much more powerful than control. Control contracts. We can only control so much. Influence is expansive. We can influence far more people, messages, and relationships than we can control.

It’s a leap of faith though to shift from control to influence. When you are used to telling the customer what to think it’s a huge jump to welcoming discussion and conversation with the customer. It’s a shift from controlling the message to being transparent. This transparency shows confidence, vulnerability, and authenticity. It creates real interactions. It changes the conversation.

The thing is, it’s impossible to do a leap of faith half way. You can’t “sorta” do it. Are you willing to make that leap as a company? As a department? As an individual?