Risk and social media: the Canadian Marketing Association's Word of Mouth Marketing Conference

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I just wrapped up a panel with David Jones of Fleishman-Hillard and HarperCollins' Steve Osgoode, ably animated by Scotiabank's Michael Seaton. Very smart people, these folks.

The subject was whether it's possible to market in social media and virtual worlds. But one theme kept coming up again and again: risk.

What if users say bad things about us on our blog? What if nobody shows up to participate? What if this flops?

Here's where I come down on those questions:

There's a chance of failure with any project, but the relative newness of social media adds an extra dimension of uncertainty. And while there are answers to all of those questions, there's no avoiding the fact that innovation and risk go hand in hand.

Can you mitigate that risk? Absolutely. Good participation design goes a long way toward avoiding a flop; a smart moderator can encourage productive conversations; a savvy organization can engage its critics.

But here's the thing: when you're charting new territory, then no matter how successful or unsuccessful each venture may be, it always leaves you with something valuable: knowledge.

Engaging audiences in participation and one-to-one / many-to-one / many-to-many conversations is, for most organizations, a completely new skill. The more of it you do, the more you learn; the more you exercise that muscle, the stronger it becomes.

The real risk doesn't lie in having a project that doesn't succeed, or doesn't succeed in quite the way you'd hoped. The real risk is being taken by organizations that aren't investing in learning those conversational skills – because increasingly, the public is coming to expect them. And if a company, organization or agency isn't listening, they'll turn to one that does.

Other bloggers' takes on the conference:


Maggie fox says

April 13, 2007 - 4:13am
Hey Rob - sorry I missed the event, sounds like it was a great panel discussion! Whenever the issue comes up with clients we work with, the thing I point out first, especially with regard to the "people will say bad stuff about us" comment is that people are ALREADY saying bas stuff about you, but because you're not participating, you have no idea what.

Rob Cottingham says

April 13, 2007 - 5:20pm

Bang on, Maggie... and what's more, now your voice can be part of that conversation... and so can your supporters' voices.

Sean Howard says

April 14, 2007 - 1:01pm
Hey Rob, Thanks for the mention. Saw it come up in earlier sessions as well. But at least they are asking the question. Is better than pretending this will go away, I suppose. ;) Sorry I didn't make the beers at the end. Would have been nice to meet up!

Rob Cottingham says

April 16, 2007 - 11:36am
Hi, Sean, and thanks for coming by -- at least we get to meet up virtually!

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