Lost in Translation: How Social Media Tenets Got Dropped Between Personal and Professional Use

By November 29, 2012Social Media

I’ve been talking and writing a lot lately (here, and here, and here) about ways that businesses have dropped the ball using social media. Two major venues in my community have missed significant opportunities to manage their reputations, particularly on Facebook, in the last week. Both rely on fourth quarter revenues to, in some cases, make their year. One is a shopping mall, the other, a movie theater; both totally consumer-facing and consumer-dependent businesses.

There are three main attributes of social media that seem have to been misunderstood or left out completely when the use of social media transferred from personal to professional use.


  1. Social media’s strength is built on personal relationships; a business must also have a personal face and identified human beings behind the brand with which we (consumers) build relationships. No one builds a relationship with a logo.
  2. Transparency, availability and responsiveness are what have made individuals superstars in the social space. Those affiliated with a brand or organization have done that brand a great service by acting on their behalf in a public way. Even when the chips are down, and the face of the company is the one to take ownership of an issue, a name and a face acting on behalf of a company is much more respected and welcome than the nameless, faceless corporate messaging.
  3. The difference between social and mass media is that social media represents TWO-WAY CONVERSATION. In the age of mass media, such a thing didn’t exist. To treat social media as if it were mass media, by only broadcasting deals, offers, promotions and other self-serving content, is a sadly misinformed approach. Asking customers what they want, welcoming feedback and interacting with the public in the social space is the RIGHT WAY to manage your professional social presence. Always.

I think the reason why businesses have handled the transition to social integration so poorly is a lack of education and understanding of the tools and how they should be used. In some cases it’s arrogance, in others it’s the blind leading the blind.

I see a couple of scenarios; in one, businesses put a person in charge of social media who only knows how to use it personally. This is common when social strategy is left to the youngest person in the marketing department, or the digital native who has been using social media personally since she was a kid. Those skills do not automatically translate; just because a person knows how to write doesn’t mean they know how to write a communications plan. In the second scenario, businesses are doing what they see others doing, copying it or modeling the same online behavior, WITHOUT EVEN KNOWING IF ITS THE RIGHT APPROACH OR STRATEGY.

Of course both of these situations make me crazy. I hate to see any business, particularly small business, spending time or money without strategy, or not taking advantage of tools at their disposal, or seeking knowledge before diving in to marketing techniques they barely comprehend.

The public, particularly the users of social media, understand the difference and are quick to point out when companies are not following the rules of social media. They demand the kind of interaction they get personally from friends, even from a corporate level. It’s all personal to the consumer, and because of that, and the nature of the social space, all social strategy demands a personal approach.