Working with both large and small organizations, we encounter varying degrees of resistance, for various reasons.
Some of the really large brands are risk averse by nature. Their primary resistance to social media is the perceived lack of control. They are wary of any criticism in a public arena and fear that a presence in social media will open them up to attack more easily. Of course, we all know that both positive and negative conversations will happen in social media with or without the presence of the actual subject at the table. We counsel that it is better to be part of the dialogue, as it shows an openness and willingness to listen and respond.
Another point of resistance with a lot of bigger brands is the fear that unapproved 'spokespersons' may say the wrong thing about the organization in social media channels. An employee posting information that is not meant for external consumption, for example.
In these situations, keeping control over moderation and monitoring down to a few trained and trusted individuals allows us to avoid risk and / or provide damage control.
Many of the smaller brands, and especially SMEs, are concerned it will take up too much of their time, energy or budget. Here we counsel setting aside a regular amount of time for social media so it doesn't become overwhelming. Simply checking your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn once a day when you check your morning email can do the job. Others prefer to dig in for one hour a week.
We use social media for many of our clients, and I like to think it helps them achieve their marketing goals (each program being tailored to the needs of the specific client, of course). One of the things it is best for is bringing more of the brand's personality to the forefront. It also helps increase frequency of contact and raise profile. You can communicate on a whole different level--and at a lot lower cost--using Facebook or Twitter than you can by running print ads. The key is having dialogue with stakeholders, customers, next customers, etc. Two-way communication is key to developing and strengthening relationships. Social media is one of the best platforms for this one-to-many and many-to-one form of communication. That said, I don't think it is a stand-alone. It works best when integrated into a comprehensive marketing plan.
Interested in hearing what others have to say!
I find control being the biggest issue to overcome as well. For so long, marketers have had total control of the message and the placement because they bought the media. We're dealing with entrenched attitudes that go back to the days of the beginning of advertising.
The audience participating truly turns the control equation upside down. However, smart marketers already know that the consumer is in control of their brand, not they. So I like to show how Social Media is just the next step in trends that they've already seen. I also point out attributes of Social Media that are similar to things they already know, like PR. With PR, you don't control placement, nor do you have total control over the message as you're working through other people (reporters, etc.). In this way, Social Media is like PR.
I point out at that companies advertise where the audience is...and their audience is on Social Media. For example, if Facebook were a country, it'd be the third populous country in the world. See this presentation:
But I think the best advice is to get the younger people in the company involved. While I believe some people and companies can change, I also believe some can't. You should direct your Social Media, SEO, and SEM efforts to the younger people in the companies. They get it because they live it.
Find a champion.
The really smart companies are also doing search engine optimization. They try to use the same keywords they already know drive traffic in their Social Media conversations.
Joel, you are very correct that social media is just like PR. We refer to the two combined as 'earned media' because you're not buying the space and attention span, you're earning it. Social media is largely self publishing, but you have to provide good, relevant content to earn the followers attention.
We've also found that prominence and an expert reputation in social media often leads to increased attention from traditional media, trusted source outlets. Smart journalists 'follow' the experts in a field via social media and turn to them for commentary as needed.
Here's a survey showing that most journalists use social media to find stories.
I did a presentation for a client about four years ago where I quoted a statistic either from Edleman or the Poynter Institute that said that 80% of all reporters and editors use the Internet to find stories.
Talking about something on the web greases the PR wheels. If you're putting money into PR, you need to be putting money into social media. And...if you're not doing keyword planning, you're leaving traffic on the table.