Pragmatism Over Purism

When I first got into social media, I was a purist. By that I mean I would evangelise for companies to go out, do their own engagement online and build their own relationships. Every time. Without fail.

Over the last year or so, however, I’ve developed into more of a pragmatist. Like it or not, I’ve found that as I work with more clients from the consultancy side that their answer will often be something like "I hear you and I agree with you, but I just don’t have enough time to do that."

Do you just tell these companies that they shouldn’t get involved in social media until they can find the resources to engage as Dell, Zappos, Comcast or Molson do?

If you’re talking about writing a blog, then perhaps they should wait (I’ve already given my thoughts on ghost-written blogs). If you’re talking about monitoring and outreach then maybe not, as long as you’re open about who’s doing the outreach.

It’s not ideal, but sometimes have to compromise… not your ethics, but your approach. I’ve done it – it’s not my first choice but sometimes the ideal approach isn’t the feasible one.

You can do your client justice by acting as their representative online. Let’s face it, in a downturn where budgets and staffing is being cut, you could find yourself waiting a long time before your client can find those extra resources. Social media purists might not like that answer, but I suspect the average person would be quite happy that a representative of Company X is engaging with them, regardless of who pays their salary.

A more important question is whether the company’s culture is ready for online engagement. Do they really want to hear what people don’t like about them? Are they really ready to respond… genuinely, without trying to ‘spin’ their way through these situations? Do they really want to help, or do they just want to look like they do?

If you don’t get the right answers to questions like those, consider that the company may just not be ready. They’d be better served by starting to listen to what people are saying and learning from it before starting to reach out and engage with people.

Only once you can get satisfactory answers to the question of if the company is ready for online outreach should you start worrying about who does that outreach. The ideal then is for the company to do it itself, but if that’s just not possible then so be it.

Pragmatism takes preference to "take it or leave it" purism. The only exception is when it comes to your ethics.

That’s my take, anyway.

What do you think?

  • Its painful to say but true. I have given a lot of presentations to clients on social media from our waves research. But usually the last slide I leave is
    step 1: ‘Listen’
    So you can get an understanding of whats going on. Before you take step 2. of any sort of action

    The truth is we all get excited and want to do the utmost for our clients and create the next zappo etc. But they have structures processes etc and social media wasnt thought of when they created them. You also have to remember a lot of this is new and goes against the marketing degrees that most clients wouldve done in the 90’s or even longer ago.
    So we have to show expertise. Hold their hands ‘a lot’ and shove a little bit at a time. Simple wins will get you through. Its hard because its a slow burn process in an industry that is running at lightspeed. But patience is a virtue

  • Dave – I agree with all you said. I would add that it might also be the ONLY way to get some clients to even consider doing it. A planned phased approach might get a client to participate where they might not have otherwise. Kind of like social media training wheels.

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  • Dave, I completely agree with you. I am very similar in my approach as I believe in using social media as part of a communications programme. I have found many clients know they have to do something because they have heard so much about it but they still aren’t quite sure what that something is.
    When we recommend an approach they usually like it but often choose the route where us as the agency do the majority of the engagement. I think this one is down to both time and ownership.
    Many companies are finding it difficult to put social media into a box. Is it customer service, PR or marketing? The answer is it is all three and this is where the ultimate problem lies – if it is all three who is responsible one department or all three.

  • I don’t disagree with you. However you cannot convince a company to engage (even if it means you engaging on their behalf) if they are not ready to give you content, support, speedy answers and all those things that you need to do them justice online.

    I always go with ‘what is your priority’. If they don’t see this as a priority – or if in practice they cannot engage with you or the audience then it’s best if they wait.

    However – going in house is always another option. That way you may have access to the inside story and actually manage to represent them and drive their strategy.

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  • Sofia – you’re absolutely right – by no means did I mean to imply otherwise. Some companies just aren’t ready to engage; others don’t rate it highly in their objectives. That’s where listening comes in. There’s no downside, apart from perhaps damage to your ego, to hearing what your customers say about you.

  • Dave – here’s something else as well. When in a company your loyalties generally lie with it. You tend to live in a bubble and any criticism puts you in a defensive stance. I think this goes over and beyond engagement and is a systemic problem. How do we overcome this?