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?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.