Even big and reputable companies sometimes do stupid things, and social media is one of those new shiny things that can make even a respected company look foolish – and what better way to demonstrate than to show it in a social medium like a blog?
One way to get it hopelessly wrong is to think of social media as just your regular one-to-many vehicle to get a standardized and glossy marketing message out to the public, and allied to that is a mistake of not making sure that you are ready for the bi-directional discourse that social media elicits.
Social media is a many-to-many medium and social networking means listening just as much (or more) than talking, and if you send a message across social media, you should anticipate a response.
Many organizations, especially their HR departments, firewall themselves from external email and have server settings and policies that make it virtually impossible for a member of the public to talk to them.
Here is a nicely branded email I got (unsolicited) from a very reputable company urging me to “connect” – and while the intent is good and the branding is solid, it simply doesn’t align well with their behavior and their (in)ability to react properly.
The Solicitation to Connect
So far so good, but my previous experience with them suggested to me that they are not very self-aware when it comes to talking to the general public and especially job-seekers.
I replied that I didn’t think I would be connecting because some time ago when I did apply for a position there, they didn’t even bother to send me the regular unbranded “get lost” email.
Here is my email response explaining myself.
Re: Connect with …… Online!
Matthew Loxton [..]
—– Careers ……Careers@……..com>
Sorry, but no.
When I did apply at ……. I got no response, which means you don’t really understand the concept of social networking and following you would be pointless.
I neither want to work for nor socialize with organizations that think social networking is the same as just saying things using social media – social networking is about listening as well as talking, it is not just putting marketing out on a different medium.
… and of course the totally unexpected then happened (/sarcasm), the mail was bounced because they hide behind a “don’t talk to us” firewall.
I received a bounce response as follows
This is an automatically generated Delivery Status Notification.
Delivery to the following recipients failed.
Arrival-Date: Thu, 26 May 2011 07:43:03 -0700
Diagnostic-Code: smtp;550 Message refused by SpamProfiler
Social media is going to increasingly become an issue of corporate survival for many people and those that don’t figure out how to use them to engage with their customers, investors, and other stakeholders are going to be under significant natural-selection pressure. However engaging through social networking is not just a bit of IT and regular marketing, and it is far less about being able to produce glossy copy and far more about establishing an engaging online persona and engaging in discourse. Social media are not just a different one-to-many broadcasting medium like TV, radio, and newspapers, it requires that you stand ready to listen and respond. Sending out an email invitation to connect and then bouncing an email reply just won’t do.
This requires not just rethinking IT systems but more importantly, also making cultural shifts.
Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert, holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions.