Karima-Catherine Goundiam is the founder and chief executive officer of digital strategy firm Red Dot Digital and business matchmaking platform B2BeeMatch.
The future of social media
Social media has become an inescapable feature of the business world. And yet, today’s social media landscape seems more unstable than ever. Stalwart platforms are fraying at the edges; and some seem on the verge of collapse as they bleed money and suffer from ever-decreasing user trust. Meanwhile, new platforms are springing up to fill the gaps, but haven’t yet demonstrated their robustness or staying power. In an era of rapid change, what should business leaders do?
Based on my experience as a digital entrepreneur, I have a few recommendations to share.
In the last few years, it’s become clear we need to diversify. But a lot of business leaders follow trends without really thinking them through strategically. When I was doing digital consulting work, one of my biggest frustrations was when clients would send me links to “what you should do” blog posts about joining the latest platform, and ask me why we weren’t doing that. It always boiled down to this: yes, your business could be on there, but I look at a number of things before I advise businesses to put their effort into a new platform.
Among other things, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is your company trying to achieve?
- What is the role of digital in your organization? Does it serve a PR function, an informative function, a commercial function or a combination? How does your social media strategy fit into this?
- Who is your market? What platforms do they spend time on? What media do they like best?
- What is your business able to do? Do you have the time, money and resources to maintain a real presence on any given new channel?
Your business strategy needs to incorporate your digital strategy, not treat it as an afterthought. And your digital strategy needs to incorporate your social media strategy, not see social media as child’s play or something you can assign to an intern and forget about.
When you have a strategy, you can make decisions accordingly. Failing to think strategically means you might end up wasting your resources on creating content and engaging in interactions online that won’t help you achieve your goals. In a worst-case scenario, if your resources are spread thin or a given platform isn’t well suited to your goals, you may end up performing so poorly that your company’s reputation suffers.
As well, beyond your company’s own content and other uses of social media, consider the public’s perception of the platforms themselves. Your decisions about digital say something about your company. Your decisions about what platforms to work with (and which ones not to) will increasingly make statements about what kind of values you hold.
Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Between 2008 and 2014, some businesses decided they no longer needed to have their own websites. Instead, they used Facebook or Instagram exclusively. But with any external platform, the owners can come in and change the rules on you. Their changes can be capricious and opaque; they might be sudden or unfair. They may also delete your profile for a spurious reason, in which case you have very little recourse and might have to rebuild everything from scratch.
Particularly when the platform is operated by a privately held company, they can do whatever they want. They don’t owe anything to anyone. It’s true that when a social media platform has a huge reach, its leaders should have some accountability, but in practice that means nothing. They don’t have to be ethical and they don’t need to be clear.
For these reasons, it’s crucial to never neglect your own assets and what you have built, meaning your own website and more. Don’t confuse your social media presence with your business presence. Social media needs to be part of your business strategy, but not the entire thing.
Consider data longevity
Companies today need to deal with two extreme possibilities. One is that a platform will cave, or – even if it doesn’t – that they’ll delete your profile or your posts without warning or recourse. The other is that everything you put out there will be there forever. So, for instance, if you make a strong political statement on behalf of your company but later decide to walk it back, the record of both actions can remain online and can affect your reputation in perpetuity. This means your company needs to have a strategy that accounts for both possibilities.
Data longevity has other implications, too. How comfortable would you be giving your housekeys to a stranger just because they were nice? Essentially, this is what a lot of people do with social media platforms. They give their data to the platform and hope they’ll use it ethically. Are you okay with that? If you’re not, do you know how to opt out? Do you understand how your data is being used and what the implications are for your business? Do your due diligence before you entrust a third party with crucial aspects of your company’s presence and reputation.
Consider data ownership
Today, the big topic we’re all thinking about is artificial intelligence, which brings up a lot of major concerns about how data is being used. People in business need to educate themselves about what AI is, what it means to them and how data ownership works.
When AI generates its own content, it can put your company at risk. For example, I recently learned about a successful company that was attempting to go public, and whose initial public offering was halted because during the due diligence it came to light that 70 per cent of the product’s code was AI-generated.
Before you invest in AI, consider the legal implications of generating assets that are not actually yours. Ownership in digital is crucial. Be diligent and conservative so you don’t end up regretting your choices. The law has not yet caught up with the technology, but it will, and the results may not be to your company’s advantage.
To bring this back to social media more specifically, be careful about using AI-generated content. It may seem like a convenient shortcut, and certainly AI might provide a creative boost for your human team or help them with other tasks. But there are major known issues with AI-generated content. AI can write uncanny-sounding and even factually inaccurate text that will only alienate or mislead your followers and customers. It can produce imagery that might not be on brand. And it can create copyright issues, whether you’ve infringed on someone else’s by using stolen datasets or ended up creating your own content that you can’t rightfully claim. Be conservative in your use of AI; treat it as a tool, not as a substitute for a human being.
Social media isn’t going anywhere, but the specifics of its future are murky and increasingly complex. So my best advice always comes back to strong strategy, due diligence and overall caution – classic approaches that stand the test of time.
This column is part of Globe Careers’ Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about the world of work. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab and guidelines for how to contribute to the column here.