Saturday, June 11, 2011

Why aren't you on Facebook?

Internet Week festival is on in New York. I took part in a panel of entrepreneurs speaking about technology and its impact on small business. 

The room was full of mild mannered media and IT types. At one point someone asked how we were using social media. The other panelists were all over it. They posted on this, streamed that and in general had it going on. I told the room that my mail order business didn't have a Facebook page, had no real blog to speak of and I didn't Twitter. Sweet Jesus, was that the wrong answer. It was like I claimed the internet was a series of tubes and farted in the church punchbowl at the same time. There was a collective choking sound. Some laughed because they thought I was joking. Others barked in disbelief. Everyone else just stared. The panelist next to me took the microphone away from me.

I guess telling internet week that my business didn't use social media was like being invited to a convention of dairy farmers and admitting I avoided milk. I wasn't trying to be a contrarian for its own sake, though. My feeling was — and is — that the long term vision of your company and a new opportunity need to meet, hold hands, and fit with each other. If they are not in sync then you should pass. After all, in small business we have incredibly limited resources. Managing is a constant case of editing, of choosing one thing and not another, of saying No.

For a long time I didn't think Facebook and ZMO were right for each other. I told Facebook "No." While many opportunities are simple and quick to test, this wasn't one of them. I knew it would take time to do well. I knew we'd need to devote people and resources to it. We'd need to learn a new way to talk to Friends that honors our high level of service. We would need to solve problems in a new way since everything is aired in public. We would need to learn how to fold it into our day-to-day work. To do this we would need a champion and a vision of success that works with other Zingerman's Facebook pages. We would need a way for us to measure whether we're doing well. 

I saw all those things but it wasn't clear what Facebook would add that synced with our vision of selling food at a profit. It wasn't that I was against social media. We just had to weigh the real costs and service issues it would create with the benefits — and put all of that under the light of the vision of our business. When I said all this I got some nods. One person silently mouthed, "Thank you." Several who'd gasped earlier said they wished more businesses had such a long-term strategic approach. I'm sure many still thought I was hopelessly out of touch and just making excuses.

Later, after the ruckus died down, I admitted that we're starting a Facebook page this summer. We have a vision, we posted for the champion position, we're going to hold hands with social media and see if we can be with each other. The room sighed in relief. 

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