The ABCs of Social Media:Authenticity, Boldness and Credibility
by John Friedman, CSR-P
The globalization of information and the increasinginfluence and importance of social media and othernon-traditional media as powerful sources of information are combining to change the ways inwhich companies and organizations mustcommunicate with their stakeholders if they are tobe effective and have credibility. While manycompanies fear the free flowing nature of thesecommunication vehicles and are reluctant to engageothers are finding that they can be powerful tools totell the organizations message, engaging multiplestakeholders in a way that actually enhancesreputation and brand value.
hether you chose to join the conversation ornot, it is happening. The question really is; doyou prefer it go on with you or without you?
One of the main reasons companies fear socialmedia is because theyre afraid that it means cedingcontrol of their images and brands. But, in point of fact, the idea that one ever really has control isillusory. No slick marketing, advertising or publicrelations effort has ever had the same impact onpublic perception as employees or customersdescribing their personal experiences. Multi-milliondollar ad campaigns can be undone with one singleact as BP discovered when the Deepwater Horizoncatastrophe put in sharp contrast their efforts toposition themselves as a clean, environmentally-responsible, alternative energy company.After months of unsatisfactory conversations withcustomer service representatives for the airline,Canadian singer/songwriter Dave Carroll found acreative outlet for his frustration and released aUnited Breaks Guitars song and video on YouTube.By December 2009, Time magazine named the dittyas number seven on its list of the Top 10 Viral Videosof year. By that time the video had received over 9million hits.The problem for United was not the existence of thevideo, or the damaged guitar in question. Theproblem for them was the fact that, rather thancomplaining to his limited circle of friends about theproblem, social media gave Mr. Carroll a wideraudience and platform for a message that resonatedwith a public tired of feeling helpless in the face of frustrations with air travel and customer servicerepresentatives.
The problem is not when someoneuses social media to be critical. Thereal problem is that companies oftendo not want to face the reality thatsocial media has exposed and fail to doso before it has spread to hundreds,thousands or even millions of people.
United eventually used this experience to revisetheir customer service training and practices. TheInternet saved them the time and trouble of conducting focus groups exploring their customersexperiences. It also cost them in reputation and,perhaps, customers. In that respect, the internet canserve as an early warning system when things goawry, but only if youre listening.
The key to credibility: Authenticity of voice andmessage
Authenticity is critical because the internet is a wideopen platform, giving equal opportunity to all. Thesame internet that showed the world the price thatIranians were paying for free elections by sharing theheartbreaking video of the tragic and senselessdeath of teenage protestor Neda Agha-Soltan withthe world also provides a platform to wild conspiracyclaims about U.S. government complicity in theterrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 to PresidentObamas alleged ineligibility to be President due to