Rethinking Social Media in an Economic Downturn

It doesn’t seem like that long ago we were in the midst of the dot com bust. Remember shredding the brokerage statements without even opening them? Remember going through all those organizational exercises at work and being asked to do more with less? We got really good at it as I recall, and it appears we will need to resurrect those skills once again. But let’s be wiser about it this time. Let’s not let our growth muscles atrophy. Let’s keep going to the gym no matter how painful it may be. Pain is gain. Most of us still have viable business models and products that consumers need. It’s fine to scrutinize, but don’t turn the burners off.

The last time we started coming out of the downturn we were woefully unprepared to get back up to speed. We forgot what it felt like to actually grow. Like going back to the gym after a three year hiatus. Can’t find the bag or the workout clothes, and by the way, what are all those new-fangled machines those people are using? Walking back onto the gym floor was like being a stranger in a strange land.

We have many more cost effective tools at our disposal now. Web 2.0 technology and the rise of social media completely changes the game this time around. Hopefully you have been paying attention to this and building social media skills and capabilities to leverage your assets in this new space. If you haven’t been doing this, it’s not too late, but it will be much harder to convince your senior managers now.

Even if you have been in the social sphere, you may need to rethink your social media strategy. If your management was on the fence they will likely be retreating from it in a big way unless they can see the value. Here are some things you may want to keep in mind as you approach this challenge.

  • Think really hard about your objectives: I love the Forrester Research listening, supporting, energizing, embracing, etc… framework. But in this economic climate it may sound too much like brand building. You will need to go back to key business drivers and reconnect these noble goals with something more tangible.
  • Listen closely to what your CEO is saying: His or her priority right now is to retrench, protect the business and weather the storm. Support this strategic change with how you frame your new social media strategy and be prepared for it to change.
  • Think narrowcasting: The broad media map has exploded over the last 20 years. Take that and increase it by a factor of 1,000 and you’ve got social media today. To make it work you need to do the opposite of broad media. Sharpen your target, find out where that target hangs out and customize the message to them. You may find out your segment count doubles or even triples. You won’t be able to afford this many more creative/marketing approaches, so either make a bet or lower your production costs, or both.
  • Burn your laundry list: Do two or three (one is even better) things extremely well, and quickly. Have your list of what’s next, but you must meet your objectives and demonstrate proficiency before anybody will give you more money or time. This will help everyone reset expectations, and allow you to keep going. Activities alone won’t cut it for the next six months or so.
  • Decide if you are building capabilities or skills: You probably won’t get the money or support for both, so choose wisely then…
  • Partner with experts for the other one: Your senior managers will be very jealous of every hour of your time. Find someone (or some company) that can help fill in where you can’t and manage them closely.
  • Make sure it scales: If it works (of course it will) they will want more and fast. So be sure your “what’s next” list can come to life repeating what you just did.
  • Measure, measure, measure: Enough said.

We will all need to work hard to keep our social media initiatives going and growing. But like anything else a business is doing it will need to be re-examined. Be proactive and do this now. Stopping social media efforts would be a big mistake. Consumers are more ready than ever to turn to other consumers for help and advice. If we do this right we will be well positioned to turn up the volume quickly and methodically when the we get on the good side of the cycle.

Would love to hear other thoughts on this.