The CEO's top five fears of social media

* Jennifer Leggio is on vacationGuest editorial by Yvonne TocquignyI recently spent eight months speaking to more than 200 executives about digital marketing and social media. During that time, I realized that five fears cause social media paralysis for CEOs.

* Jennifer Leggio is on vacation

Guest editorial by Yvonne Tocquigny

I recently spent eight months speaking to more than 200 executives about digital marketing and social media. During that time, I realized that five fears cause social media paralysis for CEOs.

Many business leaders view social media as the "runaway train" of marketing. They fear losing control-of their company's marketing message and workforce.

Yet, social media is a highly valuable two-way communication medium that enables companies to listen and connect with customers.  Statistics show people listen to the community, not your company.

Fear 1: Negative mentions Executives forget that consumers have been discussing their company, products and customer service for as long as they've been in business. Instead of fear, this should be seen as an opportunity to learn more about customer perceptions and do it for a lower cost than ever before.

Begin monitoring social media for mentions of the company and key products.  Get started with free tools including Google Alerts.  If your company is mentioned negatively, first investigate the facts internally before taking action. Any response should:

  • Take the high ground
  • Be honest
  • Explain what you have done to rectify any issue
  • Offer to resolve any complaints personally
  • Try to continue discussion offline

Listening and responding to complaining customers will go a long way towards diffusing the negative impact of the criticism. While negative comments are exposed for all to see, so is the responsiveness of the company.

Fears 2 and 3 -->

Fear 2: Being spoofed in online video

While creating online video can be an effective marketing vehicle, creative consumers are using YouTube and other sites to poke fun at a variety of brands. While marketing satire has always existed, these sites make it easy for the content to spread. A good spoof can help build brand awareness and provide a unique look into the consumer's mind.

When faced with a negative spoof, ask:

How many people actually saw the video? Is it 50 or 5 million? With obscure videos, threatening legal action or any response will only increase viewership. See Streisand Effect.

Remember, "Don't feed the trolls." Ignore inflammatory content because responding only encourages the creator to continue the attack.

Fear 3: Angry online mobs band together to make demands of the company

STOP! If there are that many unhappy customers, there is a serious problem that must be addressed. Listen to customers and fix it.

Responsive companies don't hide from the problem.  They participate in online discussions and provide honest responses to questions. Provide customers a transparent response on the company website that addresses the actions the company has taken to fix the problem.

Fears 4 and 5 -->

Fear 4: Losing control of their work force:

Executives worry about a loss of productivity with social marketing making its way into the work force. Yet, employees have been using company time to IM, text, make phone calls and surf the web for years. Unlike IM and surfing the web, social media is more visible and transparent.

Do you care how much time your employees work, or do you care what they get done? Hold employees accountable for the work they produce instead of tracking how employees spend their time in the office.

Encouraging employee use of social media can have positive results.  Make sure employees understand the transparent nature of social media. When an employee mixes personal and business, they become a spokesperson and representative of that company.

Fear 5: Drawing the line between an employee's personal rights to contribute and protecting the company's reputation.

When one of our employees posted a photo of a keg stand at our company picnic, it showed up on Google searches for Tocquigny. This incident was a wake up call with regard to the murky line between personal and corporate postings.

As a result, we created social media guidelines that were incorporated into our agency handbook.

Your company must have a social media strategy. It will make the difference between random social media marketing that doesn't achieve corporate objectives and a focused effort that does.

Social media must be an executive level responsibility as it represents a completely transparent view into your company.  Your brand, as viewed through social media, is the loudest voice from your company and it will overpower all other marketing.

With such a vital initiative as protecting your brand, getting expert assistance from a reputable source is worth the investment if you lack the knowledge and resources to manage social media internally.

Yvonne Tocquigny is founder and CEO of Tocquigny, an internationally recognized marketing firm. Yvonne is a frequent speaker for groups of CEOs in the Vistage organization and she speaks frequently for international Six Sigma organizations.