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Why are South African businesses scared of Social Networking?

It struck me today what an uphill battle we’re facing in the new media / web 2.0 / social networking industry. These shiny new communication and engagement tools are an unknown and feared art. What’s more frightening to a business than the phrase “perpetual beta”?

Let’s examine some of the reasons why…

1. Bandwidth.
It’s a mute issue. I’ve heard mutterings of a national bandwidth crisis. What bandwidth crisis? It’s always been sub-standard. The true miracle of South Africa is how we’re managing to innovate on the world stage while operating within the confines of our monopolistic gateway provider.

2. It’s too open.
You can envision the board meeting. Hasty decision needs to get made on a company’s pioneering venture into the brave new world of the web. The cynics raise a concern: what happens when someone posts a complaint or slanderous phase. Why must we have our brands trashed on an open forum?

Whoosh. That’s the sound of understanding as it flies by.

3. It’s too quick
That same board meeting . The cynics rise, stamping their authoritative fist on the oak-paneled table: now what happens when the “kids” come along, turn the complaint into a video and spread it all over the Internet? Why must we have our brands trashed at speed?

Yes, the speed at which information travels in the digital age is frightening. Yet tantalizing? The minimal costs of communication, combined with increased reach and frequency should be viewed as a competitive weapon – not a threat.

4. It’s too shallow
I agree. FaceBook and its brethren are shallow, vacuous holes of valueless communication and excessive poking. FaceBook isn’t going to tuwork turn your business around. Unless business becomes more about the beer you had with your colleagues last night than the simple concept of buy low sell high.

That’s why the future of this medium is in smaller, more manageable and more focused communities. I’m not talking about a FaceBook group. I’m talking about a niche community – where all the stakeholders in the value chain can use the speed, flexibility and functionality of social networking to collaborate on business issues. That’s where it gets exciting.

Niche business networking. Another topic for another time. Check out www.designmind.co.za for a local example of niche networking in play.

If I think about it – we don’t have all the answers. Social Networking is still in the “wild west” phase of adoption. You might just have to take a risk. But trust me here. Would you rather try and control the tone and intent of 100 sales reps engaging with your customers on an off day – or a technology platform where you can aggregate, measure and respond to conversations as they occur?

Social Networking will always mean mixing the good with the bad. It’s how you handle the bad that counts.

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