Whether businesses jump on the social media bandwagon or not won’t affect other people’s ability to talk about that company online.
Infact I was listening to a podcast on BlogTalkRadio featuring Susan Powter and she just slammed a very expensive hotel that she referenced by name for kicking her out for using lavendar oil room in her room. (I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Well I’ve heard angry people before, but not in a podcast.)
So the question is really do you want to have the opportunity to take part in that communication process (and potentially, hopefully, difuse frustrations with your customer base and avoid further bad publicity) or do you want to go down the old path of “Your call is important to us (okay, not really) please hold for another 3-6 hours.”
I guess I would hope with the speed of technological innovation people would have a better understanding that new technologies are constantly being developed and are worthy of consideration on an individual basis.
If I was an employer, I guess my primary concerns would be the investment of time social media requires and just establishing some guidelines about how to use it (when/how to communicate with disgruntled customers, what you can and cannot comment on).
On Twitter, especially, there is a great understanding that it is peer-to-peer communication and that businesses in and of themselves can’t “talk” by themselves. Often a corporate twitter account will be used just to launch official business announcements, or a specific ‘tweet’ might include the name of the person responding (@BigPondTeam – an Australian ISP company – use this approach). Alternatively many people use their own personal account and interact on that level. If you discuss the 12seconds.tv video status update service for example you’ll get a quick response from their CEO Sol Lipman.
So while I can appreciate that there is a learning curve involved and that (certainly in larger companies) protocols need to be put in place, I really think if businesses are scared of talking to their customers they probably won’t last very long anyway.
There are benefits for early adoption too. Take Stephen Fry for example. Certainly he already had a profile and was beloved, but his involvement on twitter has taken him to a new level of cult status. (He even sells Twitter themed tshirts from his website.) Twitter lovers appreciate when someone in their world embraces the technology in the way they have. Politicians earn renewed respect when they use these same technologies in an authentic way. I constantly see people quite excited that somebody else in their lives actually “gets it.”