Category Archives: Social Media
When it comes to employees and social media, the ruling is new, but the rules remain the same
January 22, 2013
You’ve developed a social media policy with an eye toward protecting your brand and your company’s reputation. You’ve trained your employees on proper use of social media. Perhaps you’ve even guided them about the permanence of social media, and that today’s rant will live on in perpetuity – to be seen by customers, colleagues, supervisors, even future employees. You thought it was safe to go into the water (cue scary music)…until it isn’t. A recent ruling from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) protecting employee social conversation is likely to cause a whole new set of issues and concerns for leaders grappling with how to productively leverage and manage social media, and their employees’ use of it.
Before you panic and block employee access to Facebook on the job, let’s be clear about what this ruling really means. Yes, the definition of protected activity has been expanded, but that simply means that employee conversations on social media have the same protections as they do around the water cooler. This includes conversations designed to organize employees seeking representation. And while some level of venting and complaining is human nature, the best protection against employee negativity is a positive, productive workplace and culture.
If you don’t have a social media policy today (and nearly half of companies still don’t have any policy), the good news is you are not in violation of these recent rulings. But it shows clearly that now more than ever you need one. In the absence of guidance, well-meaning employees and supervisors may say or do something to damage your reputation, or their own. And if you already have a social media policy, it needs to be updated. I’ve consulted with a few friends in the legal world, and it seems one of the biggest issues with first generation social media policies is their lack of specificity. Blanket statements about not saying anything negative about anyone or anything just don’t fly. It is probably illegal to have consequences (real or implied) for doing so. But that doesn’t mean there is no way to protect your brand and your Company’s reputation.
A good social media policy protects your employees, and their right to free speech, as well as your brand. Here’s my take on how to create a policy and an environment that is social media-safe, for everyone:
- Focus on what your employees should do…not a bunch of rules about what they shouldn’t do. Dell is a good example of this, encouraging employees to use social media the right way. Creating a culture of surveillance and hand slapping is counter-productive to the goal of using social media at all. (That isn’t to say you shouldn’t monitor – in fact, being aware of social conversation might be your best real time focus group about employee sentiment that you can get.)
- Make it a conversation. The idea that a policy to govern conversation is covered in the annual signing of the employee handbook is as ludicrous as believing you’ll meet your New Year’s Resolution goal by going to the gym on January 1. Social media policy requires use of good judgment, and ongoing conversation. In light of recent rulings, it is especially important to be sure your employees understand your policy, and that your supervisors and middle managers know how to talk about it.
- The medium matters as much as the message. Just like any communications, a well understood and adopted social media policy needs to be conveyed in a way that is engaging, simple and relevant. Check out this video SMP from the Australian Department of Justice for a great example. If a government agency can do it, so can you.
- Walk the talk/lead by example. If your leadership team isn’t socially active, they need to be. Employees follow what you do more than they will listen to what you say. Social media is all about transparency and authenticity, and that begins at the top. We’ve talked about the value of a socially active CEO at length on this blog – and the evidence is mounting. Just do it.
Social media policies, like crisis plans, are living, breathing things – not a document you dust off once a year. And keeping it relevant is an ongoing assignment. What have you done to educate your employees about social media use, and what has worked for you? Please share your ideas and advice with us here.
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Disney Finds the Internet Not So Mickey Mouse
October 23, 2012
Yesterday’s New York Times has an excellent article on the travails of the usually sure-footed Disney company in the Internet and mobile space. Reporter Brooks Barnes details the entertainment behemoth’s missteps as it tries to find some traction for Disney.com’s third redo in the last five years.
The article shows that even a company known for innovation and driving consumer trends like Disney, is having difficulty competing in the hyperbolic and constantly evolving digital world. As Barnes aptly puts it, Disney is an aircraft carrier trying to compete in an ocean full of speedboats. So if Disney, a company overstocked with creative talent and with a bevy of Silicon Valley highfliers serving as board members and advisors is having difficulty, what does that mean for mere mortal companies and their executives? This is particularly critical at a time when brand equity and reputation are tied ever closer to your digital strategy and online attributes. And it is only going to get more so.
The first lesson is you can no longer play by the old rules or procedures. Flexibility and speed trumps bureaucracies and approval process layers. Companies that take months or more to launch/update are being lapped by more nimble competitors that are already on digital/social media 3.0 by the time they are introducing digital/social media 1.5. Technology and customer needs/tastes are often changing too quickly, so a company must keep up or risk impacting everything from sales, to recruitment to share price. Smart is still paramount but it has to be done at warp speed and thinking two steps beyond not only matters but is a differentiator.
It is also important that companies focus on distinct audiences rather than a one-size-fits-all digital strategy. As the NYT article points out, Disney’s issues also stemmed from trying to cater to the divergent interests of Disney Channel watchers, theme park attendees, movie goers and gamers seemingly with one approach to online content.
Lastly, it is critical to keep your eyes and ears open in the breakneck digital world. This goes beyond just active listening and keeping abreast of your key constituencies on social media. It means actively investigating and searching for what is new and what is hot across the digital spectrum in your industry and others. This may mean you need to pivot quickly to a new approach, a new focus or a new technology but that is the reality that Disney found out and the lesson that any company should heed.
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“TweetThink” and What it means for Brands
October 18, 2012
We’ve all heard the conventional wisdom before: In this digital age of infinite access to a variety of online opinions, social media tools like Twitter are reshaping journalism for the better by wresting control of the narrative from the hands of a few media elite, and placing it firmly in the hands of everyday citizens. As a result, now more than ever, professional journalists need to carve out their own unique niche, approach stories from a different angle, or be the first to break news – or risk getting lost in the digital ether.
At least this is what we keep hearing ad nauseum from media critics. But is it true?
A closer look at how journalists use Twitter during the presidential campaign – and the debates in particular – shows just the opposite: rather than leading to more diverse coverage, social media is fostering a level of groupthink – or rather, Tweetthink – among our nation’s top political analysts.
There’s no doubt that Twitter is the tool of choice for any self-respecting journalist looking to share information or follow the latest stories – especially those covering the hyper-competitive beat of electoral politics. Nearly every reporter covering this election has an active Twitter account – and they use them, particularly during high-profile events like debates or conventions. After Tuesday’s debate, Twitter reported more than 7.2 million tweets, just three million shy of the first presidential debate – the most-tweeted U.S. political event in history. A great deal of that conversation was from reporters tweeting to other reporters, begging the question: were they even watching?
Even if they were, they couldn’t possibly have had the opportunity to develop their own thoughts on the proceedings in between re-tweets and banter with their reporter colleagues. For those watching from the outside, it was a cycle to set your watch to: one journalist tweets an insightful or witty observation and everyone else re-tweets it until it becomes conventional wisdom.
Thanks to Twitter and a ravenous political press corps looking for something – anything – to latch on to, within five minutes of the start of the debate, it was decided: Obama was “combative.” An off-hand comment by Romney about “binders full of women” – something the average American watching at home probably didn’t even notice – became a hashtag-sensation and the latest Internet meme. Romney’s failed attempt to criticize the President’s response to a terrorist attack in Benghazi became a gaffe of epic proportions and according to Twitter, a “game changer.”
Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank put it best after the first presidential debate when he said to Howard Kurtz on CNN (live on television, I should add), referring to the media consensus that Obama had under-performed in the first debate:
“This idea gelled early on [Twitter] that Mitt Romney was having a big night, Obama was having a lousy night, which was generally true, but it accentuated it, and basically there was a groupthink going on there that was – that was that this is a really big bad thing for Obama, and I think that we probably did our readers and viewers a disservice.”
As Computer World said, Twitter has become “the new spin room.” Buzzfeed reported both campaigns have given up on the traditional post-debate spin room in favor of a so-called “pre-wash” prior to the debate – they know that by the time the debate is half-over, the story is already written.
And while this phenomenon is most pronounced during the presidential campaign, it’s happening across all beats, all the time. Reporters talking during sports games, reporters speculating on the iPhone before its even officially unveiled (and declaring in unison that Apple Maps is obviously the worst decision the company has ever made).
This makes it all the more critical that brands and companies have a strategy that takes this new conversation cycle into consideration – that means monitoring and responding as the conversation unfolds in real time, parallel to whatever messages your brand is broadcasting.
If you wait until your presentation, speech, or event is over… you’re going to be about 1 million tweets too late.
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Tales from the Twitterverse: Why I Went Social
August 21, 2012
Guest post by Frank Sorrentino III, Chairman and CEO of NJCB Bank
NJCB’s customer oriented approach to banking lends itself to engaging on social media. We want to know our customers better than anyone else. So, we must be listening to them regardless of whether they visit a branch or not – and figure out a way to communicate our point of view, and possible solutions, in a way that will resonate.
To get started, we created Banking on Main Street, a blog that houses my commentary on a myriad of economic issues and breaks them down to what matters most to small business owners and consumers. It has provided us with a new way to engage in a meaningful, and regular, dialogue with our customers. In addition, we created a Facebook page to share event photos, updates to our product portfolio, and media coverage. On Twitter, I personally share news articles and prescriptive commentary to nearly 800 followers.
I believe more business leaders should embrace social media. Here are a few tips on how to go social that I’ve learned along the way:
Be a Voice – and a Resource – for the Community: No matter how global your business, you still exist within a community, whether you define that community by geographical or other boundaries. Whatever community you identify, engage with it…offer sound advice and insights that are relevant to their needs and interests, and represent those interests in the larger discussions around issues of importance. I’ve had some NJCB customers admit that they no longer read individual newspapers anymore – instead, they follow me on Twitter.
Build Industry Recognition: The banking industry is comprised of institutions of various sizes, structures, and growth rates. Often times, the media focus in on the money center institutions, and community banks go unnoticed. By pushing content out on social media, I am providing “proof” to reporters, to customers, and even to regulators and industry peers, that NJCB is truly engaged in offering a point of view on key economic issues. This visibility has even led to speaking engagements…my recent speaking role at the Federal Reserve of Chicago’s Bank Structure and Competition Conference was determined by not only on what I say in interviews, but what I write and share online.
Satisfy Stakeholder Needs for Transparency: The days of hiding behind executive privilege are over; CEOs need to be on the front line, and social media is how to do it. In fact, new studies are finding that regular, meaningful CEO social media engagement directly increases stakeholder trust. Social media has created an environment where people have access to an enormous mass of information in real time. The result is a better-informed consumer base that expects even more information in order to sustain trust.
Gauge Your Relevance: In a recent Forbes blog post, Where Banking Meets Tech: Why Businesses Must Adapt, or Else, I discussed why it is essential for a company to remain “relevant.” In short, it can make or break a business. At NJCB, our focus on staying relevant to our evolving base of customers is integral in every decision we make, regarding how we can better engage, understand, and know our customers…even in a heavily regulated industry. Social media gives us the platform to stay fresh, ahead of our competitors, and extend the brand-customer experience beyond just banking transactions and into consumers’ daily lives.
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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the lack of social engagement among CEOs, and the impact of this trend upon overall leadership and company positioning. However, social media isn’t totally lost within the C-suite. There are some CEOs who not only demonstrate their use of social media for effective thought leadership, but also demonstrate social media best practices in general.
Let’s lay some groundwork here. In my opinion, a socially effective C-suite is indicated by:
- Engaging, trust-building stakeholder dialogue (versus push monologue)
- Relevance to audiences, with quality content that adds value – indicated by an engaged response – rather than noise
- Frequency and consistency
In no special order, below are my top picks.
1. The Transparent Engager – Sir Richard Branson, CEO, Virgin Group
Branson gives the appearance of self-managing his active social engagement, tweeting and blogging personal musings as well as thought leadership. Across platforms (including Facebook and Google+), he gives stakeholders a “peek behind the curtain” of his business empire, discussing R & D and business decisions. He’s blogged about the possibility of buying back Virgin Records, and directly invites followers to ask him questions on Twitter.
By being a (mostly) open book about business decisions, even if the proverbial sausage is still in the process of being made, Branson achieves transparency and trust. However, keeping a consistent, personal voice is what allows Branson to stay relevant. By default, his company gains trust and relevance from these humanizing stakeholder connections.
2. The Targeted Publisher – Michael Dell, CEO, Dell
Contrasting with Branson, Dell uses social – including Twitter and Google+ – to provide stakeholders with company news, rather than personal opinions, and positions himself as an authority on the tech industry in general. His engagement is a great example of fishing where your fish are. In the case of Dell’s “tech-y” community in which he aims to thrive, Google+ is an effective platform – even if it isn’t the most relevant place for other audiences.
3. The (Local) Dark Horse – John Pepper, CEO, Boloco
Although he is not yet a Fortune 500 CEO, Pepper – Founder and CEO of New England and D.C.-based burrito restaurant chain, Boloco – is exemplary in intertwining his own social presence with that of the brand. Although he uses @BolocoCEO as his Twitter handle, he also engages with those who tweet @boloco, personally thanking them for brand advocacy or constructive criticism.
Pepper also demonstrates a clear understanding that identifying with existing local communities (for example, posting videos on Google+ of Patriots game outings with his Massachusetts-based family) can help a smaller business stay relevant. Time will tell how big Boloco will get. But by making social media engagement a habit, Pepper gives me the confidence to say that he’ll likely continue to maintain this consistent, personal engagement.
These CEOs each use social media to build trust, and accelerate relevance. We know it can be done. But social media engagement is unfortunately still the exception in the C-suite, rather than the rule. The good news is, because most CEOs have not yet caught up, the opportunity still exists for yours to get social and stand out.
As communications professionals, we often look to compelling case studies to inspire our business strategies and get them right. So, why should our approach be any different when it comes to advising our leaders on their own communications strategies? Feel free to share other examples here, as more evidence of success.
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Every day, new studies arise that make the case for why your CEO needs to get social – and the benefits to employees, shareholders, customers and influencers alike. Social Media is a real-time focus group, you can “tune in” to hear what any of your constituencies are thinking, and more importantly, to see what they are doing – sharing, liking or otherwise endorsing.
From a CEO’s perspective, social media offers the kind of insight that typically requires an appearance on Undercover Boss to obtain. The relative anonymity of social media – which some suggest may be the very thing that is making the C-Suite socially shy – provides an opportunity for the kind of candid, authentic discussion a CEO may be hard pressed to find in a corner office.
If you are reading this post, odds are you are already listening….so where to begin? Facebook (friends can’t be bad!), Twitter (brevity is the soul of wit) or even Quora’s Q&A formats all have their own appeal; but wherever you choose to start, you can follow these three easy steps to getting socially active and engaged.
STEP 1: SHARE CONTENT & FACTS – Transparency and trust start at the top. Social media provides an excellent opportunity for sharing information about corporate developments, in the CEO’s own words and voice. Michael Dell is a CEO who shares corporate news on Twitter. Similarly, Bill Gates shares lots of information about the Gates Foundation, studies, successes and new projects they are funding.
But the real opportunity in sharing is to share about something beyond your company news. Everyone loves to know what is on a CEO’s mind. What are you reading? Watching? Thinking about? And don’t hesitate to share knowledge or news that came from someone else, either. The retweet is your friend here, and it won’t detract from your own personal thought leadership one bit. Just make sure you maintain your own voice in between retweeting, liking, or giving a +1 to someone else’s content on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+, respectively.
STEP 2: SHARE INSIGHTS – We trust people, not companies. Social media provides the opportunity for individuals to feel they know you, and can trust you…as the primary trust ambassador of your Company. Once you’ve accomplished the basics of using social media as a distribution channel for your news of the day, consider sharing deeper insights. How do you move past “who,” “what” and “where” information and provide the “why” as a thought leader? What are your views on your industry? The economy? On Leadership? This is how a CEO of one company can become the voice of an entire industry. And this is how a leader can achieve a feeling of intimacy in a large organization or among a large audience. Frank Sorrentino of North Jersey Community Bank (an MWW client) does this really well.
Mark Cuban, for example, has a Twitter feed that mirrors his interests – from sports, to digital media to entrepreneurism, Cuban has a well-informed opinion and is always happy to share it. Cuban’s distinctive, “in-your-face” manner may not work for all CEOs, but it works for him. As a medium that welcomes such on-the-fly, brief thoughts, Twitter is the perfect place to voice these opinions – and often is the perfect place for your CEO to start his or her social media engagement.
STEP 3: CONNECT & ENGAGE — The final step in becoming a truly social CEO is for the CEO to begin engaging with people he or she follows on Twitter, hosting chats or hangouts on Google+, or otherwise exchanging ideas in real time with stakeholders. These activities may be moderated or un-moderated, screened or unscreened, depending upon the executive’s comfort level and that of legal counsel.
Richard Branson engages and connects on Twitter in his signature freewheeling style, mixing promotional tweets about various Virgin companies with queries to his follower base about environmental issues, management trends and product ideas. He promotes charities, political causes and inspirational or funny quotes with equal fervor.
Here is a great list of “Twitter-licious” CEOs who have proven that social media engagement among the C-suite is possible. Which CEOs do you like to follow via social media, and what can we learn from them? Share your thoughts and suggestions for CEOs to add to my list!
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Social media is here to stay. Yet there is one group that has been slow to acceptance – the C-Suite. And it isn’t because they don’t get it – this IBM study of 1,700 CEOs across 64 countries demonstrates that CEOs are aware of the transformative power of social media. Yet 70 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs don’t participate in social media…at all.
Social commitment phobes often cite the time involved to be truly engaged, but underlying the fear of time is fear of the unknown. They believe that social media is the wild, wild west – uncontrollable, dangerous and out in the public square, leaving them exposed and vulnerable.
Understandable. For people who have their calls screened, their travel carefully orchestrated and their schedules planned and managed like a military operation, that is exactly the point. Access, insight and engagement with customers, employees and influencers can improve your competitive position, and some would argue, benefit shareholders as well.
Here are the three biggest reasons about why clients won’t take the social plunge that we hear at MWW…and the antidotes:
No time/can’t make the commitment – social media lends itself well to the time crunched, moving in a million directions executive. It is quick, easy and works in headlines, rather than novellas. ING Canada’s CEO Peter Aceto has some great advice on how to schedule tweets in advance, and keep it authentic.
No one is really paying attention – This BRANDfog study makes some pretty compelling points, and focuses on CEO participation in social rather than the brand: 93 percent believe a Social CEO improves reputation in good times and bad; 82 percent are more likely to trust a company with a social CEO, 81 percent think a Social CEO is a better equipped leader; 77 percent are more likely to buy a product or service from a company with a Social CEO. And that doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the role of a social profile in garnering more traditional media attention.
My peers aren’t doing it - Isn’t that the point? Leaders go first. And while your current peers may not be doing it – your scrappier, growing competitors probably are – and they are using it to engage your customers and your employees to grow their business. Joining the ranks of @MichaelDell, @BillGates and @richardbranson might be the kind of company your CEO should keep.
What excuses are you making, or hearing, about avoiding social media, and how do you combat them? Please share your stories and advice.
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Yesterday I wrote about the latest Goldman Sachs reputation issue, and made the statement that Reputation Begins at Home….what your employees think and do is more import than anything a Company spokesperson says. Nowhere is this principle more evident than in social media. More specifically, in a Company’s approach to social media policy. To some, social media is the Wild West…uncontrollable, prone to “shoot-outs” and fraught with risk. These companies either prohibit use of social media in the workplace, restrict employees from identifying their employer, or regulate the heck out of it with restrictive, complicated social media policies.
But many are realizing that while the mediums are changing, the issue of employees as brand evangelists (or not) hasn’t. Employee tweets aren’t really that different from their conversations with friends and neighbors in the supermarket, at the ball field or the church potluck. The only difference is the size of the audience, the speed of the message movement and most importantly, your ability to know what they think and say, and if anyone is paying attention.
Trust and Relevance are the foundation of reputation. The key question is this: Do you trust your employees to say and do things that make you relevant in a way that builds and enhances your reputation? Or not? If the answer is no, you have a culture problem – not a social media problem.
This is not to suggest that social media policy isn’t important. It is very important. You wouldn’t build a swimming pool in your back yard without teaching your children to swim. How do you make a social media policy that does its job, without crushing your company’s culture and soul?
- Reflect the medium – social media is conversational. It’s short. Pithy even. A long, legal-eze policy sends the wrong message.
- Teach them to swim – rather than provide long, legal sounding lists of DON’T’s or rules, tell them what they should do, and why. Create a common vision and goal for what social media can do for your reputation, your brand and your company – and invite employees to participate and support those goals.
- Keep the DON’T DO list very short. When my kids were learning to swim we had two rules – you never go in the pool, not even a little toe, without a grown up. And you only jump feet first, facing front. We only got into discussion of diving vs. jumping and water depth once they had mastered the basics. If the DON’T list is short and straightforward enough, people will comply.
- Be realistic, and provide a safety net – Let’s face it, #@$%! happens. And when it does, employees need to know what to do, and where to go for help. Speed is the name of the game here…if employees can recognize their own “oops” and get help correcting it, you will fare much better than if you find out once you are a trending topic.
Seems to me that The GAP is getting it right, in terms of policy. Will that translate into social media reviving the brand? Too soon to say. What are the best practices in social media policy? Would love to hear your thoughts.
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Is Gaming Relevant for Causes? Nick Kristof Says Yes
January 20, 2012
A note from Carreen Winters: One of the greatest things about working in an agency like MWW Group is the wealth of talent, the diversity of perspective and the new ideas that come from members of the team. For the next generation of PR leaders, social engagement won’t be a new thing – it will be their thing – like the press conference and the VNR defined “creative” when I was learning the ropes. (Yes, I am dating myself) Check out this great post from Farrah Hamid about Nick Kristoff’s use of social gaming…it’s a great read.
Last week, Nick Kristof, famed Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The New York Times, announced the release of a Facebook game based on his award-winning book Half the Sky. The game, reportedly similar in format to the popular FarmVille, will allow players to make micro-donations to humanitarian groups around the world and contribute to their own causes. Kristof’s website says that the game will trigger “real-world, charitable action” in the fight against the oppression of women and girls worldwide, the cause at the center of Half the Sky.
The announcement and a particularly interesting corresponding interview that Kristof conducted with Fast Company raises two important discussions about the increasing relevance of social media and gaming for cause organizations. First, it addresses the opportunities that causes and advocacy organizations have to build awareness and credibility – beyond the extraordinary rallying of the crowds on Facebook and Twitter that we’ve witnessed in the recent past, with movements such as the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street (just to name two).
For an organization advocating for an issue as serious as oppression against women, gaming is certainly a surprising medium to undertake, especially given its relatively frivolous, entertainment-based connotations. Yet, some are commenting on its potential to change the game (yes, pun intended) for advocacy organizations – Kristof’s game for one will engage users not just to become aware of the cause, but actually raise cash and benefit real world schools and refugee camps.
The second discussion the move addresses is the evolving role of opinion journalism, as reporters are increasingly acknowledging the need for the “real, multi-party dialogue with readers”, as Kristof calls it, that social networks enable. When reflecting on his role as an op-ed columnist, Kristof says, “We’re moving from a format where we ‘proclaimed the news’ to the world on a fixed schedule to one where we converse with the world on a 24/7 basis. That does feel like a significant change.” For more from Kristof, you can follow his active updates on Facebook and Twitter.
Kristof’s currently untitled game is expected to launch in late 2012. What do you think? Can the world’s societal issues be changed through online gaming? Leave us your comments below.
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Engagement is critical but it’s no longer enough. In 2012, social media success will depend on building and empowering your community and giving back.
September 26, 2011
Not too long ago, the use of social media by corporations was considered a novelty. Visionaries such as Morgan Johnston at JetBlue and Frank Eliason, then of Comcast, were among the few who responded to customers online early on, and customers were pleasantly surprised to get a response. (Disclosure: JetBlue is an MWW Group client.)
Today, any company that doesn’t actively monitor and engage with consumers online is seen as a dinosaur that doesn’t care about its customers. But social media pioneers know that while this basic “blocking and tackling” of customer engagement is now essential, it’s no longer enough.
To build trust in this new world, companies must understand the new challenges they’ll face:
- An empowered public – Craigslist founder Craig Newmark has called writing online reviews a patriotic duty. New technologies and social media are catalyzing a great power shift in society from large institutions to individuals. The same technology that enabled citizens in the Middle East to organize and overthrow their governments are allowing consumers to band together and speak out against corporate practices or products they don’t like. As David Kirkpatrick recently wrote in a great article in Forbes, “We have entered the age of empowered individuals, who use potent new technologies and harness social media to organize themselves.” Unhappy customers, who once would tell a handful of friends and family members about their bad experiences are now able to broadcast to the world as part of a permanent online record.
- A cynical public – Thanks to the financial crisis, a growing skepticism of the media, corporate and political scandals, trust in large organizations, from governments to corporations, is at an all-time low.
- Less control of brand – Until a few years ago, companies owned their message and their brand. Today, brands still spend billions of dollars pushing out carefully packaged, focus-tested messaging points. But customers no longer believe or put much stock in these messages. A recent Nielsen study found that 76% of consumers believe recommendations from friends are the most trusted form of advertisement, and increasingly, they’re sharing with their friends using social media.
So what can your company do to be successful in the social media space?
Unless you’re about to come out with the next iPhone model, customers on social media likely aren’t interested in your canned marketing messages. If you think of social media as another way to advertise, you’ll only be tuned out.
To be relevant and part of the social conversation, your messaging must reflect and reinforce that social media is all about community – and that you are an essential, beneficial member of that community. Old-style corporate philanthropy – writing six-figure checks without any engagement – is seen as buying good will (or political favors) rather than building it. Tellingly, many leaders of the biggest web and social media sites – Craig Newmark of Craigslist, Chris Hughes of Facebook, Ev Williams and Biz Stone of Twitter, Pierre Omdiyar of eBay – are now focusing on efforts that benefit the community.
Here are a few ways your company can do this and generate social media buzz:
- Show how your daily operations are important to society. As one example, with the continued employment crisis, any company that is currently expanding its workforce should actively use social media to recruit candidates. Of course doing so will not only help show the important role you’re playing in the community by creating jobs but will also help find top candidates.
- Adapt your business to benefit society – but be genuine. Though Wal-Mart has received much criticism in recent years, many environmentalists recognize the enormous positive impact of the retailer’s move to stop selling incandescent light bulbs and switch to more environmentally-friendly packaging for their products.
- Use your company’s unique skills and resources to help. In the immediate aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, Google’s scientists worked with the State Department to build a “People Finder” database. The company also released Google Earth satellite images to help rescue workers. Similarly, my former employer AT&T as well as Verizon and other U.S. phone companies made all calls to/from Haiti free in the weeks following the earthquake. Two other examples just announced at the Clinton Global Initiative that are sparking positive online conversations are Pepsi’s public-private partnership in Ethiopia to increase chickpea production, and Microsoft’s “Shape the Future” 3 year initiative to bring computer hardware, software and internet service to 1 million US students from low-income families.
- Find ways to help your community. While a number of companies encourage employees to volunteer, more companies can do well by developing programs that help their customers volunteer and reward them for doing so.
- Don’t think you’re the exception to the rule. As management guru Gary Hamel said in the Kirkpatrick Forbes article, “I don’t think it’s crazy to ask if your CEO is the next Mubarak…. The elites—or managers in companies—no longer control the conversation.”
Your company can be a part of the social business revolution – or get left behind.
About the Author
Richard Robbins, MWW Group Vice President, Senior Digital Strategist, provides senior-level expertise on using digital and social media as an integral part of any successful communications program. He can be reached at email@example.com or @rich1.
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