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How to Get the Skeptics to Jump on the Social-Media Bandwagon

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Q: What's the one positive about social that you've found resonates with older execs who have been reluctant to join in?

A: 's greatest benefit -- and the reason why executives today simply can't afford to ignore it -- is its reach.

Here's an airport story I recently experienced that illustrates the value of social, while also providing an important caveat about the limits of what you can do there.

I had a scheduling problem with an airline and decided to tweet about my travails. In a matter of minutes, the airline retweeted me, and we ended up having a direct exchange on that included several back-and-forths. Meanwhile, I also emailed about the scheduling issue, but even days later, I still haven't received a response (and I'm not holding my breath).

The fundamental strengths and weaknesses of social are evident here. On one hand, you get a near-instantaneous response on the platform. And why wouldn't you? The airline knew that all of my Twitter followers saw that I was upset about the turn of events. As individuals or as companies, social media empowers us to publicize a message and achieve levels of mass visibility that were virtually impossible a decade ago. That's an amazing development.

On the other hand, were my problems really solved or dealt with in a constructive fashion? In a word, no. I suppose there were some things they could have done to help me via Twitter but all of their suggestions were things I had done already (rebook on another flight and customer relations for a refund, to name a few).

Related: 5 Ways to Use Data to Inform Your Social Media Marketing Strategy

So essentially, the social channel became a means for me to vent my frustration publicly but offered no opportunity to resolve my issue. This is the measured way to think about social in relation to your company's messaging. In one sense, any executive who's leery about using social should know it can be an invaluable -- and economical -- tool for transmitting your message.

But it's not a panacea that's going to cure deeper-lying problems with your messaging and . Only the substance of your content will be able to meaningfully address those areas.

An alternative to email?

It's no secret that for many email is the preferred choice for distributing content to prospects and customers. But get this: The average email open rates are only between 12 to 20 percent, depending on the industry.

Social offers a nice alternative channel to email, one where the dynamic of engagement is fundamentally different. It's a public "opt-in" environment where, instead of flooding inboxes, you're disseminating content to prospects and customers who are in your orbit, and who can interact with your content when and where they please. That mode of engagement cannot be overlooked.

Today's marketing is all about the right message at the on the right device. By ignoring social, you're dismissing a major channel to communicate your story -- one that's very much in step with how information flows today.

Related: 4 Do's and 4 Don'ts for Businesses Using Social Media

Just for millennials? Hardly.

If you're a social media skeptic, here's another thing to keep in mind: The people consuming your content on social are not just coffee-shop types with bosky beards and sleeve tattoos. Far from it! A recent study from the shows that in the U.S. social usage is on the rise across multiple generations and multiple platforms, and it's now fair to say that it's more or less a cross-section of society that's taking advantage of these tools.

In other words, your conspicuous absence from social media may not only make you appear out of touch with the generation of buyers who were weaned on such platforms; it might also make you seem untimely in the eyes of baby boomers and Gen Xers.

So the absence option is really not an option. You don't want your buyers -- regardless of generation -- to interpret your lack of social presence as a sign that your business and offerings belong to a previous era.

So what do I do?

Social's greatest benefit -- and the biggest reason why you can't afford NOT to have a social presence as a business today -- is its reach. Social media's reach allows organizations to publicize their message to exponentially more people than email ever could, and it also allows them to physically reach customers and prospects quickly because of its near-instantaneous response time, which also promotes engagement.

But at the end of the day, it all comes down to what you say when you get there, or else you'll just be broadcasting bad content to a lot more people. So spend the time to perfect your messaging skills as an organization… and then take that message to the world with social.

Related: How to Measure the Effects of 'Influencer Relations'

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