Here’s how it goes. When times get tough people get a bunker mentality. Lots of de-risking behavior. Cover up. Cut costs. Consolidate. Anything that looks like it might not work out is set aside. Any exposure to dependencies, internal or external is scrutinized and minimized. Most anything ‘new’ gets a bullet. New products, ways of doing things and new ideas in general are eschewed in favor of the familiar. Everyone is thinking this way, you and your customers. No new spending. No new initiatives. New? No. Whatever companies or brands were making or doing before the downturn looks and feels highly experimental. Anything ‘experimental’ or ‘unproven’ makes a natural target in a down market. And for a lot of companies, social media or social technology will fall into the category of new.
So this is bad news for social tech / social media. Right? Not really. Although businesses may walk away from it, customers will embrace it. When shit gets sideways what do you do? Who do you call? I’m driving along on my way to work. I hit a patch of ice and woop, woop, woop, I’m in the ditch. What’s the first thing I do after I stop swearing? Maybe I call my wife. Or a friend. Or maybe I get the number of a tow service. Or maybe I talk to the guy nice enough to stop and see if I’m okay. Each of these is a social activity.
Customers aren’t walking away from Facebook or Twitter or Google Groups because times are tough. They’re embracing them. So what do you do?
First thing: Open up
You’re competing for trust. Not attention. Not dollars. Not even share. Right now it’s trust. It is the coin of the realm in a shit economy. One of the quickest ways to earn trust is to be as transparent as possible. Start blogging. Start tweeting. Be honest, especially when you really get the urge to spin something. “I don’t know” “I can’t say” and “I was mistaken” are all better than the most finely crafted PR response.
Share everything you know. At least everything you can. The only things that should be locked are the things that are private. The personal equivalent would be your medicine chest, your file cabinet - where you keep bank statements, tax returns, etc., and your underwear drawer. You know, private stuff. A great way for a lot of companies to do this is to open their API’s. Application Programming Interface. It basically lets others connect to you by connecting to your data.
Second thing: Try lots of small things
The time of big ideas is over. A big idea is just an idea with a big budget. Not a lot of those to go around these days. Even worse, a big idea leaves no room for any other ideas. And the fewer ideas you have the less likely it is you’ll have a good one.
The next time someone says, “What if we...” your answer should be, “Cool. What’s the cheapest, fastest way we can try that?” There’s almost nothing that can’t be modeled, mocked up or hacked together quickly and cheaply. If you do it right, the first nine attempts will fail. If the tenth fails, move on. But keep trying. A quick note here; ‘small things’ are meant to be tried in low-criticality environments. They are also best tried by small groups of people (like four) who are passionate about the idea. Otherwise, instead of quick, cheap failures, you get big, expensive, drawn-out failures.
Third thing: Be patient
Not only will you not get the hang of social media overnight, but your customers and maybe even your employees won’t believe it at first. It takes commitment. It takes time. Besides, what else are you going to spend? Money?