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Not too long ago you had to convince clients they needed to be in the social media game. Now it’s the opposite. These days brands come to agencies asking for a digital strategy.

Well, almost the opposite.

Many organizations are concerned about the risks around social media. Public sector organizations worry about public discourse, financial institutions worry about privacy, retail brands worry about losing control of their brand.

They know they need a social media strategy, but they’re reluctant to actually commit to the open philosophy of online engagement. In fact, I once had a client flat out refuse to use any of the big three: Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.

In essence, these brands want to be social without being social.

While the knee-jerk reaction might be to discount this attitude for its shortsightedness, it may just be that this kind of organization is merely in its social media infancy (or Crawl Stage, according to David Armano). You can’t ask it to fly before it crawls.

Bringing social to other media

One strategy is to encourage clients to incorporate the techniques of social media into their existing online platforms (websites, newsletters) in order to take those first wobbly steps toward social. For example, they can:

  • include more interactive content, like photos and videos;
  • shift the language on the site from business formal to more casual and personal;
  • include more dynamic content on the site, like RSS feeds, widgets or Twitter feeds;
  • provide links to third-party social media sites like Flickr galleries or Pinterest boards.

While a social media-skeptical brand is still in the Crawl Stage, changes to its website should be small and easy to implement – they’re often coming to the table without extensive human resources in place – but the impact should be huge.

A simple thing like posting photos can make a text-heavy site come alive for a client and their audience.

Managing (your own) expectations

Image by TurtleDude via Flickr.

Brands can be very satisfied with these small differences. The hardest thing is reining in our own expectations as marketers.

If you swim in the deep end of social media all the time it’s hard to be content with letting your clients play in the wading pool.

But your client is not your guinea pig. It should never be about the cool new app you want to try. It’s about seeing what stage of social media maturity your client is at and providing them with the strategy and confidence to reach the next stage successfully.

By guiding your client through the baby steps you can introduce them to the philosophy of being social: listening instead of broadcasting, connecting instead of positioning, real-time instead of in-their-own-time.

As they integrate being social into their content strategy and their business strategy, they will naturally open up to those “cool new apps.”

As communications professionals we have to realize that clients who come to us wanting to be social without being social just need to be socialized. And that takes planning, patience and care.