Maybe Nobody Knows How to Leverage Social Media for Business

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For my money, the most interesting takeaway from this article on social media from the Chicago Tribune's business section is a quote from Jeffrey Kalmikoff, chief creative officer of Chicago-based indie T-shirt company Threadless. The article calls Threadless "a social media hit," due to the fact it's attracted more than 1 million buyers and designers for its T-shirts largely through social media channels. His quote:

Nobody has any idea of what they're doing on social media. It's just how comfortable your company is in taking risk. Some things can pay off; some things can fall flat.

Kalmikoff calls out all the f<strong>olks who claim to be social media experts</strong>and points out that fear (of risk, of change, of backlash) is the biggest reason so many companies aren't using social media. Just 26 percent of companies employ social media such as Twitter and Facebook for corporate purposes, according to the article, citing numbers from communications company Russell Herder and Ethos Business Law. Plenty of them are thinking about it, though, with 70 percent planning to give it a try.


For those 70 percent of companies, it's unnerving that amateurs like Dave Carroll, a member of the band Sons of Maxwell who earned an incredible amount of attention with a YouTube video calling out United Airlines for its poor customer service, enjoy far more success with social media than most big corporations. His video of his song "United Breaks Guitars" has been viewed almost 5 million times, and Carroll is putting out a sequel.


Maybe folks are just rewarding Carroll and others for being more "authentic" and trustworthy than companies trying to use social media to improve their marketing and customer service efforts. Or maybe, as Kalmikoff says, it's simply that nobody "has any idea of what they're doing on social media."


While Twitter is arguably the hottest thing out there right now, Kalmikoff calls it "a giant question mark" and says he's "highly suspicious of anyone who says they know how to use Twitter properly in a business setting." Threadless finds that Facebook and its own weekly e-mail newsletter are better ways to reach customers.


American Airlines, which is developing a Facebook application that lets families and friends plan trips together, also prefers Facebook to Twitter to connect with its customers. Facebook offers "a more robust conversation" than Twitter, says American spokesman Billy Sanez. American's Facebook wall contains lots of customer photos and comments, both good and bad, the article notes. And customers are offering suggestions to help American tweak the new planning app. Having users test products and offer input to improve them is an increasingly popular use of social media, employed by the likes of Google.


Still, it's not like companies aren't reaping benefits from Twitter. The article mentions JetBlue Airways' popular promotion of its "All-You-Can Jet" monthly pass. Dell claims to have earned more than $3 million from Twitter promotions since 2007. Best Buy last month launched a Twitter initiative to increase sales.