Foching up social media

General Ferdinand Foch

Aviation is a good sport, but for the army it is useless.

So declared General Ferdinand Foch in 1911, merely 3 years before the outbreak of World War I.

To be fair, we shouldn’t forget the context in which the statement was uttered. It wasn’t even a decade since Orville Wright managed to keep his engine-powered Wright Flyer in the air for 12 seconds.

By the end of the year, however, the Italians were already using aeroplanes for reconnaissance and bombing raids in their war against the Turks in Libya.

First successful flight of the Wright Flyer by the Wright brothers.

Aeroplanes were used extensively for reconnaissance by both sides in the early years of World War I, with opposing pilots even waving to each other in gentlemanly fashion.

Sure enough, this behaviour was soon replaced by the pilots throwing bricks and grenades at each other, then firing handguns, then operating mounted machine guns.

Dawn Dog Fight, Mick Mannock VC by Graeme Lothian

Today, of course, aeroplanes are a critical component of warfare. They are used for close air support, air interdiction, strategic bombing, interception, military escorts, transporting people and cargo, and even distributing propaganda.

Jet fighter

Of course, I don’t accuse the good general of stupidity. He simply lacked imagination.

Foch struggled to make the mental leap from what contemporary aircraft was being used for, to what it could be used for – particularly in terms of advancing technology.

Are we any more imaginative today?

Unfortunately this kind of thinking has not been lost in annals of history. It’s alive and well in modern corporations, perhaps most conspicuously in relation to social media.

Many executives still don’t “get” social media. They see their daughters dilly dallying on Facebook; they hear their sons laughing at skateboard crashes on YouTube; they read about Charlie Sheen attracting 1 million followers on Twitter in a single day; and they learn about lonely hearts finding true love on Second Life – only to meet in real life and promptly break up.

No wonder they think it’s crap!

But don’t let them off the hook that easily. Help them make the mental leap from what social media is currently being used for (at least in their world) to what it could be used for – particularly in terms of customer service, sales, marketing, public relations, communication, engagement, collaboration and innovation.

It’s an arms race. If your business doesn’t start running, it’s foched.

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3 Comments on “Foching up social media”

  1. -Jay. Says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I think one of the main things that is holding back not only executives but also small business owners is the apparent lack of Return On Investment with social media.

    There are a few issues inherent with social media as it stands:

    1. It’s pretty difficult to measure ROI on social media in the first place, e.g. is one retweet worth $1?

    2. It’s hard for customers to get excited about business social media, unless you’re the Old Spice guy.

    3. The fact that people are heralding it as the best thing since sliced bread is rendering it even more hard to take seriously.

    It’s got a bit to overcome before it can be treated as a serious business building tool in terms of perception and technical usage but there is potential there.

  2. Ryan Tracey Says:

    Yes, I tend to agree Jay. Unfortunately there are extremists on both sides of the equation, neither of which represent the true opportunity of social media.

    ROI is the perennial bugbear. Unlike many of my peers, I’m a big fan of ROI. Otherwise, why bother? But you are right – it can be challenging to measure it in this space. However I’m not sold on the idea that a strict causality between activity and revenue is appropriate. For me, social media is more about customer engagement, the generation of goodwill, and the perception of leading the market. Social media or no social media, this stuff remains difficult to quantify in terms of dollars.

    In regards to customers getting excited about business social media, a point I would raise is that the business sells products, right? Or more to the point, customers buy those products. So there is some attraction there that can be tapped into. Of course, Old Spice Guy won’t work for every brand, so the trick is to find out what *does* work and run with that.

    For example, I work for a financial services company and I hear frequently that people find insurance, tax, banking etc boring. Sure, but I know what they do like: money. So if my employer were to move deeper into the social media space with tips for saving money, paying less tax etc, I’m confident it would be a winner.

  3. -Jay. Says:

    Right on the ball Ryan. You’re completely spot on with the notion that causality doesn’t necessarily imply that social media “works”. Society itself isn’t linear, so applying linear models to it would be somewhat inappropriate.

    It’s good that you brought up the notion of using what works because ultimately that’s what people will be most persuaded by. Market research into the “hot buttons” of people in any audience has to be completed before any social media campaign should be attempted.


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