I have been intrigued by the recent Dilbert comic strips highlighting social media. The piece below was particularly amusing and got me thinking about social media and corporate strategy. The comic shows the conflict between social media adoption and corporate culture and portrays a situation that happens all too frequently. Many companies desire to engage in social media, but when they recognize the commitment and ensuing open discussions back away.
In the storage industry, social media participation varies. On one extreme, we have companies like EMC or NetApp who have embraced the medium with a large number of active Twitter participants and bloggers. The broad range of content and opinions suggests that both companies give employees great leeway. (Although it appears that the amount of freedom varies by division.) However, there is a downside. At times conversations can devolve into competitive fighting that benefits neither party. These discussions are frustrating and I know of people who have stopped following argumentative Twitter participants from both companies. These spats are a byproduct of openness, and would be avoided if the companies implemented stronger controls. However, by allowing open discord, individual personalities can flourish thus creating a more engaging social media experience.
While EMC and NetApp are highly active on Twitter, there are plenty of companies in the storage and data protection industry who have limited involvement. It is not clear whether the limited participation is due to a lack of recognition of the importance of the medium or perhaps a Dilbert-like scenario where corporate policy or legal requirements prevents participation. Social media represents an important outlet to interact with end users, peers and colleagues and I believe that companies who are not participating are missing out on an opportunity. I understand the fear of trying something new or being involved in a competitive fight, but social media enables new connections that are difficult, if not impossible, to recreate using other mediums.
The problems described above are typically found in large companies that are slow to adopt to new mediums and marketing outlets. Smaller companies, like SEPATON, typically have an advantage because they are often more agile and willing to try new approaches. In the case of my employer, SEPATON, I started this blog over two years ago and began tweeting soon thereafter. It has been a great experience and the numerous interactions with other industry participants has been extremely valuable. I can say with absolute certainty that social media including Twitter has facilitated many new relationships.
In summary, I believe that social media participation is very important. It can increase corporate recognition and drive new interactions with current and future customers. While some companies have an open approach which may not be right for everyone, the strategy of ignoring the outlet is not a recipe for success. Companies must choose the strategy that works most effectively for them, and I am fortunate that SEPATON has embraced a model of openness. Companies who are struggling with social media would be well-served to remember that their employees represent them every day in phone calls, events, meetings and webinars. If you trust your employees to represent you in daily activities why not in social media? I know that this is a struggle for many companies, but remember if you are not participating, your competitors likely are.