Why Companies Are Resisting Social Media

Wednesday, February 6, 2008 by Mistlee

Why Companies Are Resisting Social Media

By Shel Holtz

I spoke last week about the uses of social media for industrial organizations.

The venue was the annual conference of a trade association representing these companies that employ lots of blue-collar workers who go to outdoor job sites every day; they never sit in front of computers except, maybe, at home.

The audience was made up of owners of smaller companies and senior management from larger ones. About 200 people or so were in my room (I was never very good at those eyball headcounts). I was taken aback when I asked, "How many of you know what a wiki is?" and two raised their hands.

The same two guys also knew what Twitter is; nobody else did.

I could use this experience to rebut yet again the notion that we have entered an era in which companies can just blog everything. But I've beaten that horse to death and the people who insist that it's true are just going to keep right on insisting that it's true.

As I took questions from this group, it occurred to me that there are a lot of reasons why companies resist adopting social media as part of their communications mix. That got me wondering about which barriers I've heard articulated most often to justify barring social media. Here's my top 5 list.

What would you add to it? I'm interested in reasons you hear all the time, but if you have some off-the-wall rationale that you've only heard once, hit me with that, too.

#1 - IT won't let us

IT doesn't want to spend the time or money to test social media software on company networks, claiming it can cost tens of thousands of dollars and take up to a year to make sure applications don't conflict with existing programs. They also resist external hosting, asserting that it puts company data at too much risk. (Makes you wonder how much they care about our 401(k) data, since that's never housed on internal servers.)

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#2 - It will be abused

Employees will say inappropriate things. Customers will complain. Bad language will appear on comments. People will insult management. We'll end up spending time on issues we don't really think are important. Care to add to the list?

#3 - Management fears loss of control

The company has invested considerable time, effort, and money to craft a brand image that will be completely destroyed if we open it up to the masses. Besides, transparency is a bad thing and we don't need our internal workings on display.

#4 - Legal and regulatory risks

Nobody likes a lawsuit. Besides, the Securities and Exchange Commission will the company if an employee inadvertently makes a forward-looking material statement. Pharmaceutical companies fear the FDA's punitive powers for promotion of unapproved indications while the financial services industry fears fines from the bodies that regulate their activities.

#5 - We don't have the time or resources

Communicators are already overworked. Where are they supposed to find the time to do all this new stuff? How can they even stay on top of the ever-shifting social media landscape?

Incidentally, at a Ragan/Simply-Communicate conference in London last year, participants addressed obstacles to social media implementation while providing feedback through an interactive system. Simply-Communicate's Marc Wright summarized the results.

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