The interest in Social Media in the business world is growing. And it’s growing ‘upwards’ in the organisation. I say ‘upwards’ because increasingly I’m engaged in conversations with the Gate-Keepers around whether they should our shouldn’t jump in? The weight of the conversation is still resistance and skepticism, but new conversations are emerging in new places, and this for me, is a trend I’m interested in following.

When I am asked for my opinion as to whether a business should engage in Social Media, my response has become, “Did you buy a Fax Machine?”

Often I get a puzzled look before I’m asked to elaborate. My question comes from hours and hours of thinking, conversation and reflection around what this all means for business? And a few months ago it dawned on me (while speaking at a leadership conference), that the Social Media conversation is just like the Fax Machine conversation of years ago. In fact, I’ve discovered that in some companies the decision around a Fax Machine made it to the Board Meeting!

For those that can remember, the questions and concerns were very similar:

  • We’re doing fine without a fax machine
  • Who would we fax?
  • Who would fax us?
  • What would we fax?
  • Not all of our customers and suppliers have one?
  • I can’t see how it would make a difference to the way we work?
  • It’s going to create unnecessary expense
  • Will we have to create a Fax Department?

Of course we all know how the story played itself out. Fax machines became ubiquitous. Everyone got one. The peer pressure mounted. In fact, it got a stage where if you didn’t have one, it reflected negatively on your business,

And you could tell the same story around the Cell Phone and the Web Site. The same process, the same set of questions and ultimately the Gate-Keepers relented, embraced the new form of media and communication, and the rest, as they say, is history.

In fact, for many people the fax machine has come and gone. There are many young people today who’ve never received a fax, have never sent one, and probably will never touch a fax or fax machine ever in their life.

When you spend some time reflecting on the decision process and rationale of the Fax Machine, Social Media is easy to get your mind around. It’s simply another channel through which to engage with your customers and suppliers. There’s nothing more to it than that really. Certainly it needs a different set of skills and it will, like the fax machine, change some of how you do business.

Is it necessary? Absolutely. When your customers are using it to engage, at the level we’re seeing, it’s not only necessary it’s imperative. The real challenge in my opinion is not to try and build a case for embracing Social Media, I dare you to build a case against it. I can’t think of a single business or industry that is excluded from having to ‘jump in’!