Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Three reasons why some companies are scared of Social Media.

For some time now there has been a lively discussion about why so many companies are not allowing Social Media to be a part of their employees IT-environment. After reading the great book "The New Social Learning" by Marcia Conner and Tony Bingham I have learned how to respond to the skeptics of Social Media. I have used these tips a number of times when discussing these issues with different people from different companies. And to be honest it has worked every single time.

But as these discussions pops up again and again I started wondering WHY so many companies (or actually people within these companies) have these attitudes. Because if we really want to make a change I don't think it is enough to have answers to questions. I need to understand where these ideas come from in order to really work with the needed change.
So let's start with the first reason:

1. Loss of technological monopoly

I will go way back in history for this one. Historically companies have had total monopoly of the latest technology. Back in the Industrial Age people had little, if any, technology in their homes. Companies had all the technology available. It was the company who decided when it was time to invest in a new machine and the worker had no influence of these decisions as they had little, or no, knowledge of the latest technology. The engineers of that time was in total power and had monopoly on technology.

Today the situation is quite the opposite. At home people have 3D TV´s, we have high speed Internet connections, we use smart tools like Evernote and Dropbox. We socialise via Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc. The companies no longer have the monopoly on the latest technology and this is a new situation to them. The tech-guys in today's companies are competing with all the amazingly innovative people at companies like Google and more. Of course, this situation must be quite scary and hard to tackle for the IT-department in many companies.

2. New media technology has always been controversial

Ok, so we visited history in the first point. Let's continue with this now. But this time we'll move even further back in history. Because often when an innovation has appeared in the field of media some people have reacted strongly against it.
In 1440 Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press with movable types. This made it possible to mass print books. Before this, writers had copied books by hand which made books expensive and rare. With the printing press all of a sudden books became cheaper and easier to come by (still they were quite expensive but not as much as before). Was there critics to this? Well, yes there was. The arguments against this technique ranged from that "writers will not have work anymore" to "ordinary people shouldn't have access to books, it's dangerous for them. Who knows what they will do with these books" (recognise it?). 
In the 20th century the tape recorder caused the same negativity. No one would buy records anymore since they could record anything broadcasted on the radio, or even worse they could start copying records. This would lead to artists loosing their income and the whole music industry would collapse.

The same debate happened all over again, first with cd-burners and then with file sharing. And now with Social Media the same debate happens once more. "Who knows what people will use these tools for? What if someone uses them in the wrong way? SoMe is not for work, people just use them to play games like Farmville".

3. Data is safe, people are not.

Traditionally IT-applications have retrieved data from a database and then presented it to a user. Computers were programmed and did exactly what they were told. Sometimes things went wrong, but the computer and data was never to blame, it was a human who did something wrong with the code. As long as the code was correct we were in total control.
With Social Media a new element was added to the equation, namely ordinary people. People who do mistakes, people who act strange and do unexpected things, people who find work arounds' to problems. This makes the whole retrieving of data and presenting it much harder. We can no longer trust the source and therefore it is dangerous. This lack of control is probably the most scary things to traditional IT-people. People simply can't be trusted like raw data can. We are not the owners of all the content anymore, the owners are the users, and users can't be trusted.
This is another reason why this new technology is dangerous and therefore has to be banned, the sooner the better. 

So, that was my list. What do you think? Does this make any sense? Am I on the right track? If I am, can this be of any use when trying to change the attitude towards Social Media or doesn't it really matter? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Thanks for taking the time,


  1. Mattias, you have certainly named the primary concerns. I would also add that companies who pay large marketing and communications departments are worried about losing specific control over their outbound communication if more employees are engaging in social networking.

    Whether or not an employee marks their twitter feed as "not representing their employer", a consumer may perceive an individual's tweets as speaking for a company.

    Furthermore, big companies spend a lot of time and money selecting specific branding concepts and language that they want to use when representing their company and its products. Expanding the number of communicators increases the risk of diluting your branding and communication message.

    Personally, I think the benefits of engaging with customers far outweigh these risks, but I think this is a real concern for large businesses and organizations.

  2. Hi Kelly,

    Thanks so much for the comment. I think you are absolutely right in your analysis. Of course it is quite sensitive for a company how you talk to their customers.

    That is very much a marketing question, and to be honest, I know way too little about marketing to make any smart comments in this field.

    What I have been thinking of is not how to use Social Media to interact with customers, but how to use Social Media to interact with co-workers. So not co-worker to customer, but co-worker to co-worker. And this does not have to take place on Facebook or Twitter. There are many alternatives to these that can be run inside the firewalls with no external access.

    I participated in a webinar hosted by the great Marcia Conner this Friday and asked her what she saw as the number 1 reason for companies being skeptical towards Social Learning. Her response was that these companies are probably not skeptical towards Social Learning, they are skeptical towards Socialising. I like that comment a lot.

    Thanks for taking the time to comment,