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So, where are you going?

As is expected with anything surrounded by intense hype, as has been the case with blogs & social media, the focus is on the TOOL with relatively less thought on THE NEED, writes Rajesh Lalwani.

india Updated: Dec 11, 2007 22:12 IST

A few days ago, I was chatting on the phone with someone from Mumbai, who had called to discuss the use of blogs and social media tools for internal knowledge management by organisations’ and the talk swerved to: “Is a blog is better than a forum or vice-versa?”.

I was reminded of times when - very young - my younger sister and I would often gather available pillows to create a square/ rectangle, which was our ‘car’ and using an imaginary steering wheel, made appropriate driving noises. Only, our car shell was going nowhere, for, it didn’t have wheels or an engine for that matter.

So the question is: Now that you have got yourselves a car called social media, do you know where are you going?

As is expected with anything surrounded by intense hype, as has been the case with blogs & social media, the focus is on the TOOL with relatively less thought on THE NEED. A mere shell (blog/forum/social networking site or whatever) is not enough. The car is surely not going anywhere without an engine and an ongoing supply of fuel! It’s also good to remember- the car cannot drive itself. Organisations/ marketers in India are finally beginning to look at adopting social media and blogs, but, given that the concepts are relatively new, the emphasis seems to be on continuing traditional marketing thoughts/ logic into the neo-environment. However, Participating in this neo-environment is not about following tradition, here the rules are different - the rules are being written by the consumer, the community. In fact, many believe that the moment you attempt to ‘sell’ on social media, you have lost the users attention - focus has to be on conversations, on adding value to the user.

Given all that, here are points to consider, which can act as a checklist for you to figure out what a blog can do.

What is the need?

No, I mean what is the REAL need that can be met by adopting blogs & social media? Just because another brand or organisation has adopted/is adopting the tool is not a good enough reason for you to adopt it too. Remember there is a cost of engagement.

Many, if not most, of these tools cost very little themselves but as a brand/ organisation the costs to consider are not to the ‘monetary’. There are associated costs in terms of time, content generation, outreach and promotion and the like. Think this through, for, an abrupt withdrawal may not be an option later.

Message is your car’s engine

Which stakeholders are you trying to reach through your social media initiatives? Are they users of the Internet? Of course there is increasing indirect impact as messages get picked by mainstream media/ influencers but are your stakeholders ‘direct users’ of these tools, communities? Which ones?

Figured the message you wish to share with your stakeholders? Now be prepared to let go of control, for, on social media, it is the user/ community that partly controls the message.

Content is the fuel

What is it that you are sharing with users that will keep them engaged, keep them coming back for more? It’s important that you have clarity of purpose, and stakeholders, which in turn will help you determine content.

So, who is driving?

The initiative; the content — are you looking at a corporate blog written by many stakeholders or a CEO blog? Can a community generating user generated content of interest to your customers be of help?

Who is in charge of content? No one/everyone doesn't work, like we may have witnessed elsewhere.

Look into the side mirror, often.

Are you tracking what the competition is up to? While you are busy doing your own thing, the competition maybe close by (or ahead for that matter). Look around, but don't copy their moves.

Do you know the rules?

Don't get caught on the wrong foot. The social media space is a relatively new. It's important to know the basic, but evolving rules. Punishment can be swift and severe.

Show some reverence, please.

Sure, blogs can be a free tool, so is uploading content on YouTube, as is setting up communities on Social Networking Sites... but your brand/ organisation is very valuable! While adopting social media, do show YOUR BRAND/ YOUR ORGANISATION some reverence — your brand has a personality, an identity, an image, a reputation — so doesn't your 360 degree apply to blogs and social media?

(The author is a marketing communication professional specialising in social media issues and runs Blogworks, a consulting firm)