How to Survive Social Media

Interview with Sherrie Madia, Author of The Social Media Survival Guide
How to Survive Social Media
Organizations today approach social media one of three ways: They embrace it, ignore it or are immobilized by it. The key to success, according to educator Sherrie Madia, is to manage the transition.

In an exclusive interview, Madia, author of The Social Media Survival Guide, discusses:

  • Risks and rewards of social media;
  • Survival tips for organizations - starting with policy-making;
  • The impact of the recent social media ban at Harrisburg University.

Madia, Ph.D. is an educator, author and trainer. Her most recent books include The Social Media Survival Guide (Also available in Spanish), The Online Job Search Survival Guide, and S.E.R.I.A.L.PRENEURSHIP: The Secrets of Repeatable Business Success. She is frequently cited by the national media as an expert in social media.

She is Director of Communications, External Affairs at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and managing partner of EyeCatcher Digital, a strategy consulting firm, offering corporate training in presentation skills, corporate image consulting, and strategy planning.

She is Associate Adjunct Professor at Drexel University, and a Lecturer at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She holds a Ph.D. in Mass Media and Communication from Temple University, a Master's degree in Communication from the University of Miami, and a Bachelor of Arts in Writing Seminars from The Johns Hopkins University.

TOM FIELD: To get us started, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and your work, particularly with social media?

MADIA: Sure, well I am as you mentioned, the Director of Communications for External Affairs, but I'm also a Practitioner of social media and an educator of social media both with our current MBA students here at the Wharton School and also with professionals. So, lots and lots of rich dialog coming out on the topic, and you know great perspective I have been able to achieve in the context of my traditional discipline, which is my PHD is in Communications. So for anyone who is on the academic and practitioner's side, you know every day is a party. It is just some thrilling things are happening out there.

Social Media Ban

FIELD: Well interesting that you used the term "party" because I understand that you attended a social media ban party at Harrisburg University last week. I would love to get your impressions of that?

MADIA: Yes I did indeed, and you know I think when we heard that there was going to be a ban on technology, knowing how people have grown accustomed to tweeting and so forth during presentations, we weren't quite sure how it was going to be received. But, in fact, it was a fabulous experiment, and I think it is one that we'll see replicated in other universities. Because it is one thing to consider "what if", but it is another thing entirely to actually carry through with it and feel the effects. And while we know some students were trying to hack the system, or they were trying to use their smart phones, it really was a fabulous opportunity for all of us to stop and reflect on, "Why are we doing all of this? Why are we utilizing our resources this way? What is the yield?" It's an important question for us to ask at the college level particularly, because the question is really: "Do we want to produce the next generation who is going to be beholden in some way to updating their status and tweeting things out. Is that really what we want?" So it was a tremendous opportunity to stop and ask those questions.

FIELD: Sherrie, what would you say were the "ah-hah" moments for you as you observed this ban?

MADIA: Well there are several things happening. One of which is we need to be cautious about gratuitous use of social media. While it's a tremendous tool, it's also something that we can use for the wrong purposes. So, what was wonderful about the panel discussion that I was on was after, in the midst of this twitter manifestation in these types of events, people were focused. The audience had nothing to do but focus on what was being presented to them, as opposed to being content creators out in the audience. And I think, in one sense, it's refreshing.

Surviving Social Media

FIELD: Sherrie, you've published a book, "The Social Media Survival Guide". What is it that we need to survive in today's society?

MADIA: You know we need to survive transition more than anything else. For those of us who are old enough to remember, we've done this before. We've done this with the world wide web. We can recall the days before people had websites, before people had email, and there was a great deal of apprehension surrounding that, and we made it through just fine. What we're seeing, both for individuals and for corporations, is a great deal of angst. Companies are approaching social media in one of three ways. They are embracing it, they're ignoring it, or they're immobilized by it. That is, they know they need to do something, but they are not quite sure where to start.

Risks and Rewards

FIELD: For business organizations, what do you find to be some of the rewards and the risks of social media? I think you have probably have touched on some of them with the discussion we've had about the social media ban.

MADIA: Yeah, you know the risks are the not knowing the space in which you are operating. So we see companies who are overly eager to be out in that space, and partly this is because being in the social media space equals relevancy for an individual and for a brand. If you're not there, you're simply not as relevant. And it's a great opportunity for brands who have been in existence for a while or brands who need a makeover to reinvent themselves using social media. But the risk is, if you step into that space without a plan, without a content strategy, before you've actually listened and figured out who is there ...Where are your target groups? This is where we see companies running into trouble. And the other important risk that needs to be considered is that this is not a one and done and it's not a set it and forget it. It's a conversation, and it's ongoing, and once you turn on the switch you need to continue to feed those networks and communities with content, because it's all about an ongoing, 24/7 time-shifted conversation. It's a very different model from what we're used to. The rewards are that we are able to be iterative. We are able to listen to first-hand to consumers telling us what they think about us and for many companies that is a frightening proposition. But the good news is we don't have to set up expensive focus groups as we used to. Not to say that they are not still important, but we have another venue by which we can garner research on what people think about us, or are they talking about us at all. What are our competitors doing? We have very easy access now to figure these things out, and then create a strategy and a plan around that.

Action Items

FIELD: In your book, Sherrie, what are some of the specific recommendations you make for organizations to survive social media?

MADIA: Well first thing, they need to begin with an objective. So it's traditional marketing public relations communications; what is your objective? What is it you are trying to achieve? Is it brand awareness, is it education, or is it increase in product sales? That then is going to determine the strategy you use. So we here this question all the time, what's your favorite network? What is the best network? What's your objective? Because each can do different things, and you want to ensure that you're not using just one necessarily. You are using the networks that are working best to meet your objectives. So you start with the objective and then you create a plan. So you want to ensure that you're not just coming out with a one-time campaign but that you've really thought through, what's the plan for engagement? What's the plan for creating touch-points? Once I get them to the flicker site, then what? Right, because we see a lot of companies who are able to garner public detention and they're not sure what they want to do with it. So, plan before you step into that space.

Then the next point is policy. Companies tell us all the time, "I'm not quite ready for a policy on social media; I'm just going to dip a toe in the water and test it out." What we find is that it's too late to create a policy down the road. Companies need to step forth with their employees being informed about what are the rules of engagement. So, for example, can I as an employee blog about my company's topic on my own? Can I tweet during business hours? What's the tone and style that are being used when we have employees communicating out via social media? These are important guidelines to set forth upfront so that everyone has that same expectation and understanding of how to operate and navigate successfully in that space.

How Social Media Impact Business

FIELD: You've had an opportunity to see a number of organizations. How do you see social media most impacting the way we conduct business going forward?

MADIA: Well you know it depends on where it started in an organization. So there's not one set model yet that says "social media lives here." Sometimes it sprouts up in customer service. Other times it's marketing. Sometimes it's in public relations, so depending on where it's most needed or the person, you know it depends on who has raised a hand within an organization to say "I'll spearhead this initiative." It manifests itself in different ways. But it impacts largely via time and content. We're all frantic that we are over-taxed with work and we're under-resourced, and we don't see that changing. And when you present the proposition of social media to companies, they immediately think "How in the world will we get this done?" So it's about managing to resources, and it's about understanding that if you set up a customer service Twitter account, you need to be prepared to be exceedingly active in that space. Because the last thing you want to do is to create this channel and then walk away, or wait too long to respond, because you know it can be a fabulous tool for showcasing how customer service savvy you are, but like any measure it can be the thing that really brings down a corporation because it's quantifiable, it's measurable, and the web 2.0 space is sticky. It is very difficult to pull things down once we've put them out there.

Social Media Policy

FIELD: Now you touched on this in your discussion about a social media policy, but for organizations that are just now hopping on the band wagon and many of them are. What advice would you give them to get started?

MADIA: Well for one thing, they shouldn't feel apologetic. I hear too often that people are sort of tucking this away as their dirty little secret that they haven't yet engaged. I tell them, "You're probably just being smart because if there isn't an immediate need and people don't see the value and companies don't yet see the value, it's good that they waited." The other good news is that there is always another train at the station when it comes to social media, and you know when we think about the history of the world of things in social media, it's only about six years old. So it's not very long at all, but during that time we have seen rapid and dramatic iterations of technologies, of platforms, of uses, and we'll continue to see that. So we haven't yet landed. But the key to stepping in is: First, listen. And we see this, it sounds like something simple. Companies just want to run in, and that is problematic. You want to first get a sense of "Do I need to create my own community? Does my target group already exist in another community and can I engage with that community?" So it's first getting a sense of where are the people that you are trying to reach, and how will you best reach them via which channels, via linked in, via Twitter, via something else.

Then you'll want to create a content strategy too. So you'll want to know upfront, what kinds of content are best going to engage my users. Is it video tutorials, is it a podcast how-to, is it blog posts -- what kind of content is it. And that will help you determine what's sort of resources do I need, because when companies fail to do this and they think that user generate content is going to sustain them; they often feel overwhelmed.

So the other important element for companies just stepping into this to keep in mind is that it's not overnight. So, while it may take us just moments to create a Twitter account or a Facebook fan page, it takes the same amount of time as any other traditional channel to generate support and to generate engagement. And that is an important consideration, too, is to set the expectation upfront so that people don't walk away after a month's time saying "This was a failed exercise."

FIELD: Interesting you point out that social media really is only six years old, but if you're a freshman at Harrisburg that is a third of your life.

MADIA: That's right, that's right. And you know interestingly, too, you know just in terms of quantifiable elements, people often say they flock to our traditional mass media models, which is all about quantity. So we'll get, "I need a million followers, I want ten thousand fans" and the question we ask then is why? What are you going to do with those ten thousand? The interesting thing about social media is that's not necessarily about quantity, it's about quality because not all fans and followers are created equally. You want a handful, and sometimes for companies it's that core of highly engage brand ambassadors who really do the most for a company, and its brand and its image, and its reputation. So if we're driving, a company should be aware that the goal is not to simply drive toward quantity, it also has to access the quality. And keeping in mind, too, that what we're doing in this online space is all about an off-line effect, and companies often overlook that. We go and get so wrapped up in feeding the Twitter stream or feeding the posts, or getting our photos on Flicker that we forget that this is about an off-line effect. What do we want those people to do? And that is the important element that is going to be the make or break between failure and success.

About the Author

Tom Field

Tom Field

Senior Vice President, Editorial, ISMG

Field is responsible for all of ISMG's 28 global media properties and its team of journalists. He also helped to develop and lead ISMG's award-winning summit series that has brought together security practitioners and industry influencers from around the world, as well as ISMG's series of exclusive executive roundtables.

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