There are, no doubt, a few good reasons for some business endeavors — in particular, professional service enterprises — to have concerns over the use of social media.  For example, lawyers, doctors and accountants cannot be perceived to be offering legal, medical or tax advice in any media marketing context — social or otherwise.

I believe every concern I’ve heard can be addressed; but I’ll also cop to believing the benefits of conversations with clients and targets far outweigh concerns — provided, of course, ethical and regulatory issues are appropriately addressed.

Smoke screens notwithstanding, it is that “conversation” idea that may be the real road block.  Many company leaders — from the C-Suite to the board room — don’t know what to do with so-called social media because it allows for instant feedback and (almost) forces conversation.  This is a far cry from a view of media efforts as one-way communication “campaigns,” allowing for carefully framed messaging and perceived ultimate control.  (Nevermind the possibility that a message might completely miss its target while swallowing up huge amounts of company resources.)

So, to the degree that the idea of employing social media as a part of a marketing and communications strategy is problematic, here are three thoughts that might help us frame the discussion anew in the coming weeks.

  1. The ultimate goal of any marketing effort should be two-fold: to enhance the brand, and to move forward on a continuum that leads to a new or deeper relationship with the target.  Nothing accelerates the establishment and deepening of relationship like the give-and-take of conversations.
  2. Real-time feedback affords actionable marketing intelligence; and nothing is more “real-time” than a cnoversation with a constituent, client or target.
  3. Any opportunity to engage with a target audience is an opportunity to deepen a relationship — even when the opportunity emanates from an issue or problem.  The best company leaders recognize negative feedback as an opportunity to win.

If, to some significant degree, you believe these three points, we have 3/4ths of the framework for a new way to talk about social media.  The final piece?  Don’t call it Social Media.  To the uniniated, the term “social media” conjurs images that, at best, have little to do with business.  At worst — come on, you know what images at this end of the spectrum look like.  Change the discussion.  Create a new label.

One suggestion: focus on the fact (and build conversations around the idea) that relationships trump everything.  I believe our goal as marketing professionals and company leaders is to facilitate deep, meaningful relationships that endure.  Those relationships deliver return on investment…and become part of a customer-based marketing community.  That community will let us know, loudly and clearly, when customer experience and marketing  message do not align.

Put another way: if we hope to build relationships, we’d better have a platform for meaningful dialogue with clients and targets.

What’s the new name for social media?  In my view it builds on the concepts of conversation and relationship.  My guess is what we call it changes, depending on the audience.  (Ghosts of Communication Theory 101.)