I attended an industry event this week that reinforced that a massive gap in awareness, understanding and adoption of social media persists in the communication industry. I don’t claim my event was a representative sample – the participants were from 8 of the major corporations in the New England region – but I suspect the outcome would be replicated in most other regions of North America. Here were the highlights:

  • Most participants are still trying to figure out the terminology, mechanics and possibilities of social media…hence their attendance at this event
  • Excluding my situation…one of the groups had established an external blog (that didn’t allow comments or questions) and a couple of others were considering internal blogs. Only one company had what could be considered a full menu of social media applications – blogs, collaboration wikis, etc.
  • Virtually all participants claimed the executives in their companies were hesitant and uninformed about Web 2.0, and the communication folks said they were struggling with how to explain and justify the benefits of social media
  • The battle to retain control over the communication process – which I would argue is an illusiory and counter-productive exercise – is alive and well in the profession: a couple of the participants professed to be concerned they could no longer “control the message” and were not willing to take the chance of negative comments
  • There was much angst about managing the risks related to engaging in social media, though those were never clearly laid out beyond mention of potential disclosure issues or lawsuits. I heard much less about the merits and potential benefits of engaging in conversations, addressing customers directly and driving more transparency and credibility.
  • Surprisingly, the biggest internal barrier to engaging in social media was not the Legal departments, but the IT folks…a trend I’ve seen repeated in my career
  • The focus of the discussion was on basic applications like blogs or wikis…and very little discussion of the wide range of marketing forays in social media

What’s the lesson here? Clearly, social media is still a work in progress for many in the communication industry. Those that are involved are typically way ahead of the others, and the gap does not appear to be closing. There is a lot of focus on clearly defining the purpose of engaging in social media – which I endorse – but also much debate and distraction on the obstacles and potential risks. Many companies have figured out solutions to the arguments typically raised by opponents or laggards, and most of it is really just common sense. The challenges of getting executives and CTOs on side is clearly a problem, but it’s also an opportunity: Who wouldn’t want to be in a position to be the expert and driving force on the most important communication trend of the past decade? If IT, the CEO or even marketing are wondering what to do, why not the PR or communication leader? Isn’t this what communication professionals have been asking for: a seat at the table?