Don’t Let Tools Distract You

I was presenting a social media seminar to a public-relations agency recently when the talk turned to uses of blogs. The people in the room were excitedabout blogging’s potential and were eager to apply the technology to new tasks.

I cautioned them that they were asking the wrong question. The issue isn’t what tool to use, but what problem to solve. Tool selection is secondary.

There’s nothing unusual about their attitude. People often start by choosing tools and work backwards to solve problems. Maybe management has just issued an order to start blogging, or the tool is seen as a tactic to improve search performance or it just seems like the thing to do.

But that’s like starting with a hammer and then figuring out what to build with it. If your objective is to make a house, then you’re off to a pretty good start. But if you want to craft a pearl necklace, you’ve got the wrong tool for the job.

I recently consulted with a client who wanted to build a social network for a defined customer group. It was an ambitious idea, but as we talked through it, we both realized that the process of getting it through internal and regulatory approvals could take a year or more. We finally settled on a more modest idea: Launch a relevant blog, try to build customer interest quickly and then take the results to management in hopes of getting fast-track approval for the social network.

Choose tools wisely
The building blocks of social media are simply tools and they’re not well-suited for every task. For example, if your objective is to alert visitors to a new category of products and provide detailed information on the specifics, a catalog page would be more effective than any interactive tool.

But it’s human nature for people to use the technologies they understand and figure out the application after the fact. Unfortunately, that can waste a lot of time and effort. E-mail is terrible for communicating between groups of more than about five recipients, yet people routinely organize massive projects with dozens of participants by e-mail. Even if the tool is poorly suited for the task, they reason, at least people know how to use it.

A better approach is to define business objectives and then search for tools that support them. For customer feedback, for example, blogs and social networks are a good choice. However, podcasts and video won’t do the trick. So if your objective is to improve customer relations, a podcast may not be a good place to start.

Technology vendors encourage the tool focus. Many of those firms are run by engineers who love to create cool new stuff. They’d much rather talk about features and functions than how to solve business problems. You need to block that tactic. Any vendor that won’t give you references to customers who are solving problems that are similar to yours is blowing smoke.

Social media tools are cool, but they’re always irrelevant if they don’t solve problems. Don’t let technology distract you.

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