Helping business to make the most of social media
For American social media and business consultant and educator Mark Schaefer, it really all began with a blog and a tweet.
A blog, because when, after more than a decade, he left his role as an executive with aluminium company Alcoa and decided to start a blog called , he had little idea that it would gain national, then international interest and help launch a new career.
A tweet, because a single post he made to Twitter, picked up and replied to by a man in Wales, set in train a sequence of social and then work events which last week culminated in a client visit with Bank of Ireland and several talks in Ireland, including one to more than a thousand IBM salespeople at a corporate event in Killarney.
“The thing that really ignited my career in social media was my blog. I really started it in 2009 as an experiment, and to immerse myself in blogging,” he says.
He thinks that his blog resonated with readers because many bloggers writing about social media and marketing actually had very little marketing experience.
By contrast, he pushed to get Alcoa online in the 1990s, after he had seen the internet demonstrated. “I suggested to my boss that there might be something in this internet thing. It seemed to have a lot of potential,” he says with amusement.
Alcoa became one of the first companies globally with an e-commerce site, which it used to buy and sell commodity products. Schaefer eventually found himself the global director of e-business for Alcoa.
He left Alcoa just as social media was really beginning to take off beyond the realm of blogging. And he quickly found that not only were companies struggling to come to terms with how – and whether – to use social media, but so were universities, which felt the subject needed to be incorporated into marketing programmes, but could not find people who could develop a curriculum or teach it.
Before long, he found himself writing books on social media that have become textbooks for dozens of universities – including one that he says remains the top-selling book on Twitter. And, he helped to develop a course on social media for Rutgers University, where he also teaches.
Why do businesses have such a difficult time with social media?
“It’s so complex. Things like Twitter require an entirely new mindset. What businesses have a hard time with is that every time there is a new technology businesses treat it as an old technology.”
Hence, most businesses initially saw the internet as a place to stick up their brochures, when it is really a new form of mass broadcasting, he says.
“The common mistake of companies is to use social media just as another advertising channel, when what most people are using social media for is to get away from that. They don’t go to Facebook to look at more advertisements, they go to Facebook to play Farmville.”
He argues that many organisations miss a simple truth – that the internet actually restores an older way of doing business, where there is more direct communication. Consumers want – and expect to be able – to talk with somebody in a company through social media. They do not want to be advertised at.
“But a lot of business executives are freaked out, because they’re conditioned to advertise. With social media, the customers talk back. As someone said, ‘It’s like the deer having guns’! But we’re going back to the way we always did things in the past.”