Shut up and listen: Social Media is not your new megaphone

You’ve heard social networking is the next big thing for businesses. It’s the future of communications, PR and marketing. If you don’t want to fall behind, experts say, you better get on Twitter, set up a Facebook fan page, create a YouTube channel. You gotta start pumping out updates, funny videos, and podcasts to get your message out to your customers. Content is king, baby.

I have three words for you: Shut up and listen.

This brave new world of social networking, social media, web 2.0 and all this great internet stuff is transforming everything about how businesses, nonprofits, schools, and governments communicate with the public, but stop — go back to that word transforming. This change in communication is not just a new technology for doing what you’ve always done. It is not just the new tube through which to send your message. So put your megaphone down…

What? You can’t put your megaphone down because it’s missing? You lost your megaphone?! Oh, wait—I see it. Look out there. See it? See all those people? No, not the public but your customers, your members, your students and their parents, your employees, your constituents and citizens—all of them have the megaphone now. It’s not as big and loud as it used to be, but — ssh! Listen! They’re talking to each other. What are they talking about?

They’re talking about their favorite movies. Some song lyric they misheard. They’re talking about Afghanistan, President Obama, their cousin who was at Falluja. They’re talking about their favorite whiskey. They’re talking about their children and the funny things they said today. They’re talking about their grandmother who just died and their best friend who just lost to cancer at the young age of 37. They’re talking about how they beat cancer. They’re talking about Lady Gaga’s latest video and Susan Boyle’s new CD. They’re talking about Tiger Woods and and the future of journalism. They’re talking about what they had for lunch and how delicious it was and if you’re lucky it was at your restaurant. Woo Hoo! Social Media FTW!

Yes, sometimes they are talking about you. Are you ears burning? You better hope it’s good, because they could also be talking about how your service was terrible, how they got food poisoning from your blue plate special… and they’re talking about it with their friends (who trust them) and through the megaphone they’re also talking about it with a lot of your other customers.

So what are you going to do about it? Put out a press release? Here’s what to do: Go direct to them. But be careful.

It is tempting to jump right in and mix it up with them, but look at all the other stuff they are talking about. Do you really want to be in their face when they’re still mourning their best friend? When you go direct, you’d better be respectful. The world is watching.

So, apologize for the bad service (what does that cost you, really?). Then, do something about it. Back up the apology with action. Remember that if they care enough to complain about you, they care about you. So be grateful for the feedback. Who needs to hire mystery shoppers when you have real customers with megaphones 24/7/365?

That’s better. You can now go do your home work—read and follow Seth Godin, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, Mitch Joel, Kristina Halvorson, Jay Rosen, Clay Shirky, Dan Zarella and that’s just for starters.

But before you go, and this is very important, keep in mind that:

Social Media is not an add-on

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