Why Big Businesses Are So Bad at Social Media

By Tim Baker

Social media is now mainstream and quickly approaching necessity. If you’re a business and you’re not engaged in some form of social outreach, you soon will be viewed the same way that a business without a website would be viewed today. Because so many businesses realize that they need to be in social media, there is a frenzy to establish some sort of presence, and this frenzy is doing more harm than good.

I like to think as social media as oxygen; it’s all around you, whether you’re breathing it or not. There are conversations occurring all over the social web and this “wild west” nature where everyone with a mouthpiece to the web has a voice can be a business’ best friend or worst enemy. If you’re a consumer, social media is fantastic; it completely levels the playing field and gives you similar powers as the New York Times or Zagat have. If you’re a brand, social media scares the hell out of you. The “power of the people” has never been more true than it is today.

To any business somewhat in tune with social media today, none of what I’m saying is new. They understand that they need to be involved, but what so many of them don’t understand is how to be involved. A social media strategy does not mean throwing up a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account and calling it a day. The companies that really get this understand that and are killing it in the digital space.

Ironically enough, many of the world’s biggest companies have the worst social media strategies. One would think that all the money and notoriety would make it easier for these brands to engage with customers, but more often than not, their size is their biggest enemy.

The reason that I’ve found that some of these Fortune 500 business are so bad at social media is because of the way they are approaching the whole notion of engagement. These companies are so used to being segmented internally that they feel they need to function this way externally. For example, those people working in the investor relations roles of a company live, eat, sleep and breathe the world of IR. The problem is that in reality, IR is only one small part of a brand’s overall presence. When many investor relations people are tasked with utilizing social media into their practice, they immediately think “how can we make social media work for us.” This right there is their downfall.

There is no template for a successful social media strategy. What works for “Company A” can be totally different from “Company B.” Some may think “we’re only involved in B2B so we don’t need to be on Twitter” when in fact there are many B2B companies that can get more from Twitter than a B2C!”

People need to stop thinking how they can make social media work for them and start thinking how they can work with social media. Until these large brands let go of the notion that social media is something they only need to focus their expertise of business on and start looking at a holistic strategy, big businesses are going to continue to let the smaller, hungrier and more savvy competitors pass them by.


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