CarmiLevythumbnailRemember way back in the mid-to-late 1990s when companies tried mightily to convince customers – and the rest of us – that they “got” this newfangled thing called the Web? This was the age of hastily built, often static Web sites that typically did little more than reaffirm the firm’s mailing address. Not a whole lot got done, of course, but to the early adopters, the very act of getting involved represented an important first step in keeping pace.

 

While time and technology have made that era look quaint to our now-jaded eye, a look at today’s Web 2.0-infused landscape reinforces the fact that little has changed. Sure, the corporate Web presence is now a given – you’re essentially out of business if you don’t have one – but now we’re all focused on social media as drivers of business. And companies are once again striving mightily to convince us that they “get” Facebook, Twitter and anything else with a remote connection to the mythical and mythically misunderstood concept of Web 2.0.

 

Then as now, some of the early efforts were hokey at best. And then as now, we laughed at the lame efforts to look current. But the companies that rolled up their sleeves early in the Web game learned how the game is played. And they picked up valuable skills and experience while their more conservative competitors stood on the sidelines and watched.

 

So goes the process today, only the stakes are higher than they were back then. While many companies continue to dicker over potential strategies to take advantage of social media, the rest of the business world is already diving headlong into the waters. No matter what the corporate line is on Facebook, for example, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders are already using it in both sanctioned and unsanctioned ways to initiate and maintain business relationships.

 

Social media tools grease the skids and help companies of all stripes connect, prospect and grow. While it makes sense to approach this brave new world with a certain – if not insignificant – degree of trepidation, it makes little sense to let that fear freeze the organization’s plans in place. For companies afraid of the unknown, passive social media strategies, in which you can set up a quiet presence, then simply use it to monitor what’s being said about you and your market, could represent an early, crucial gateway.

 

Opting out isn’t an option. Like basic Web sites before them, social media tools are fast evolving into core platforms for interaction and collaboration. It’s affecting your entire stakeholder base, from internal teams and leadership groups to customers, suppliers and other external stakeholders. Increasingly, the platforms that host these services are becoming the venues where the bulk of communication takes place. Tuning out of social media now essentially locks the organization out of the conversation and relegates it to irrelevance.

Would you consider doing business today without an e-mail address? Before long, going to market without a solid social media presence will seem just as silly.

Carmi Levy is an independent technology analyst and journalist based in London, Ontario. He comments extensively in a wide range of media, and works closely with clients to help them leverage technology and social media tools and processes to drive their business.

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