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ITSOPEN REPORT:
DIGITAL MEDIA
AND THE FUTURE OF
CORPORATE REPUTATION
Author:
Dr Andrew Currah
Executive Summary by:
Stuart Bruseth
Vice President, Shell Global Media Relations.
First member of Social Media Leadership Forum.
Executive Summary 1
Part 1
Corporate Communications within theDigital Media Landscape 3
Part 2
Opening the Executive Culture of Communications 9
Part 3
Building a Digital Communications Structure 15
Conclusions 23
Acknowledgements 26
Endnotes 27
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Executive Summary
T
his report examines the impact of
digital media on corporate reputation.
By distilling and explaining the principal
forces of change, we hope that the report
will help communicators make sense of
the opportunities presented by the new
converged media landscape. Based on
over 30 interviews with leading thinkers
and executives, the research argues that
digital media is powering a renaissance
in the corporate communications sector.
Never before have communicators had so
many tools at their disposal with which to
craft, distribute and develop messages on
a global basis. On balance, we suggest that
the opportunities greatly outweigh the
reputational threats.
Defned by a new sharing ethic, the web
has given rise to myriad ‘gift economies’ of
content. Residing over vast repositories of
ideas, experience and data, companies are in a
unique position to contribute and proft from
collaboration. We argue that, by participating
in these gift economies, companies have an
opportunity to connect with a variety of
audiences, in a more authentic, personal and
direct fashion, and consequently incorporate
a much wider range of insights into their
operating practices.
Despite the speed and scale of the
changes underway, the report asserts
that the overall impact of digital media on
corporate reputation is evolutionary rather
than revolutionary. The skills and experience
that have traditionally defned corporate
communications will continue to have
immense value. In addition, the interactivity
and spontaneity of social technologies are
no substitute for formal channels of fnancial
and regulatory disclosure.
The net result will be a hybrid media
landscape, which is defned by top-down
and bottom-up channels of corporate
communication. The challenge for the
modern company is devising a digital
strategy that can effectively balance both
forms of communication; namely, developing
an innovative presence around digital media,
while also ensuring that controls, checks and
rules of disclosure continue to be observed.
The central communications team will
increasingly fnd itself sandwiched between
two expanding bodies of information: on the
one hand, insights and data from employees
across the company; and on the other hand,
external news and comment about the
company across traditional and digital media.
To strengthen the digital reputation of the
company, communicators will need to fnd
innovative ways of fltering and harnessing
the former as they monitor and engage with
the latter.
In this regard, the report proposes a
‘satellite’ model of digital communications
in which a specialist network of advocates
orbits and reports back to the central
communications team. Recognising the
collaborative possibilities of digital media,
we argue that it is more scalable and
cost-effective for companies to empower
their employees to contribute to digital
communications activity.
In this model, the central
communications team effectively functions
as a hub around which distributed expertise
can coalesce, fourish and expand. In other
words, it is responsible for providing media
training and establishing the guidelines
around which advocates can then
communicate with the wider world.
By empowering employees in this
fashion, communications teams will arguably
beneft from richer and more powerful
narratives from the very frontline of the
company. The keystone of this model is
an executive culture that is more curious,
humble and collaborative in its approach to
communications. Opening to the possibilities
of digital media will require a leap of faith
from senior management - both in terms of
the allocation of greater communications
powers to selected advocates and in terms
of the investment needed to build the
accompanying systems, training and resources.
N
ever before have
communicators
had so many tools
at their disposal
with which to craft,
distribute and develop
messages on a global
basis.
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C
orporate communications is at the
dawn of a new era. The convergence
between digital and traditional media
is transforming the way information is
produced and shared.
The increasingly viral, realtime and
mobile nature of the web, for example,
means that the lag time between the
incidence of news and the reporting of news
is being reduced to minutes, even seconds.
Digital media is now defned by ‘social
technologies’ - a combination of advances
in software and hardware that simplify and
accelerate the sharing of content. These
technologies hold great promise for the
communications sector.
First, they allow companies to craft
and disseminate messages in richer, more
interactive and tailored formats. Never
before have such large organisations
been able to communicate with so many
different audiences with such a degree of
personalisation.
Second, they also allow companies
to adopt a more collaborative and
participatory approach to the generation of
communications. By regularly contributing
ideas, insights and data to what we term the
‘gift economies’ of the web, communicators
have the opportunity to connect with
specialist communities, take on board a
wider array of viewpoints and in doing so,
potentially reinforce the digital reputation of
the company.
Third, the information generated by
digital media provides companies with a
realtime view of their reputation - both at a
macro-scale across markets and at a micro-
scale within particular communities and
territories. This functions as an early warning
radar against crises and as a valuable source
of intelligence about different audiences.
Taken together, the trends underway
in digital media are argued to herald a
renaissance in corporate communications.
The convergence of digital and traditional
media - and in particular, the transformation
of newsrooms into web-centric hubs - is
increasing the demand for digitally packaged
information from the corporate sector.
As the resources available to professional
journalism dwindle, companies are fnding
that they have an important role to play as
suppliers of specialist and industry-specifc
news. This creates a valuable opportunity for
companies to articulate their own narrative
of events.
There are also challenges. The
transparency afforded by digital media will
tend to expose companies to a greater
level of scrutiny and public questioning. And
although digital media dovetails with the
core function of communications - that is, to
produce well-crafted messages for a variety
of stakeholders, whatever the channel
- it also demands a variety of cultural and
operational changes that some companies
will struggle to accept.
Nonetheless, the broader outlook
suggests a sustained reinvigoration of
corporate communications. The skills
that have traditionally underpinned
communications will continue to have
immense value, even though new systems
and training will also be required to tap the
speed and reach of digital media.
1.1 Social technologies are now
the defning feature of digital
media
‘S
ocial technologies’ are integral to digital
media. The latest devices, software and
online services are all designed with some
form of digital sharing in mind. In fact, this
kind of functionality has become so prevalent
that it is increasingly passe to speak of ‘web
2.0’ or ‘social media’ as somehow discrete
phenomena. They are now built into the very
fabric of the digital age. Nonetheless, as Clay
Shirky writes in his recent book:
‘the social uses of new media tools have
actually been a big surprise, in large part
because the possibility of these uses wasn’t
implicit in the tools themselves’.
1
Today, social technologies are very
much taken for granted. As they sink into
the background of everyday work and life,
tools such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter,
as well as video sharing platforms and the
blogosphere in general, are all transforming
the way we fnd, organise and share
information. The effects are as pronounced
in our business lives as our social lives.
Part 1
Corporate Communications within the
Digital Media Landscape
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In the words of Charlene Li, co-founder
of the Altimeter Group, the greatest
achievement of social technologies has
been to ‘bring humanity into a place that
was once cold and technological’.
2
What is
also signifcant about these technologies is
that they enable a ‘human mark-up’ around
information. In contrast to the algorithmic
basis of a search engine such as Google,
platforms such as Facebook and Twitter
enable users to navigate information on the
basis of their social connections.
Advances in user interface design - and
crucially, broadband connectivity - have
dramatically simplifed the act of digital
sharing, creating a much wider, more inclusive
‘gift economy’ around digital media.
3
That
is, a growing number of internet users now
have the capability to share both content and
computing resources (e.g. hard disk space and
processing power) with other users on the
network. In contrast to physical equivalents,
participation in digital gift economies comes
at low or virtually zero cost.
Examples range from general-purpose
tools such as Wikipedia (an encyclopedia
produced entirely by volunteers in their
spare time) to specialist initiatives such as
the Folding@Home project (the world’s
largest distributed computing network),
which utilises the power of PlayStation units
to perform complex simulations of protein
folding and other molecular dynamics.
4
A
variety of gift economies are now taking
shape as more and more users opt to
participate, collaborate and share with
others via the web.
Despite the widespread adoption of
social technologies, our digital attention
is narrowing. For example, the majority of
web traffc is concentrated around a handful
of websites. According to Compete, the
top 10 websites accounted for 31% of US
page views in 2001, 40% in 2006 and 75% in
2010. Similar trends are evident in countries
worldwide.
5
With over 500 million users,
Facebook is a vivid example of this process
of concentration - and is arguably the
dominant gift economy on the web.
The driving force in these gift economies
is the accumulation of reputation - and in
particular, the attention that contributions
can command. The masters of the gift
economy model of exchange are those
that generate the most clicks, comments
and connections. With regard to the feld
of news and comment, the status and
infuence of participants is determined not
only by how much they contribute, but also
by the originality and accuracy of those
contributions.
However, the openness we typically
associate with social technologies appears
to be coming to an end as a series of
boundaries steadily emerge across the
web.
6
These boundaries are taking the form
of ‘paywalls’ and proprietary software. By
containing and corralling large audiences,
these boundaries are designed to exploit
the commercial value of the sharing ethic
- either through advertising or subscription
revenues.
7
As a result, the gift economy model
of exchange is being absorbed within
curated ‘walled gardens’, which are typically
closed or at least tightly controlled with
respect to their development and use. The
result is distinct communities of sharing,
concentrated around particular platforms.
The shift from the open web ‘browser’ to
the closed ‘application’ is accelerating this
process, particularly via the adoption of
mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad.
8
1.2 Social technologies are
driving fundamental changes in
publishing
T
he evolution of social technologies is
driving a number of important trends
across the digital media landscape, which
have signifcance for news publishing in
general and the business media in particular.
The frst trend is the transition to a
network of realtime communication. Social
technologies herald a ‘more open world where
information moves from being local to global
in seconds’, as a communications expert put
it. To better handle the resulting torrent of
social content, search engines have raced to
incorporate realtime feeds into their results.
Google, for example, recently upgraded
its search engine with a system known as
‘Caffeine’ to enable realtime indexing of
the web. A range of other search tools are
also emerging, particularly with regard to
the sentiment and political orientation of
realtime results (see, for example, Blekko, a
new search engine).
The second trend is the viral nature of
realtime communication: once published,
information has the potential to rapidly
propagate both the web and traditional
media channels. As Jeff Jarvis argues, the
simplicity of the ‘hyperlink’ - in concert
with recommendations, social connections
and the so-called ‘human mark-up’ effect
- is integral to the rapid exposure of new
information, whether it is a newsworthy
story or an expression of artistic creativity.
Hyperlinking is the essential underpinning
of what might be termed the ‘social graph’;
W
ith over
500 million
users, Facebook
is a vivid example
of this process of
concentration - and is
arguably the dominant
gift economy on
the web.
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the means by which individuals connect and
share information using the internet.
The third trend is the rapid shift to
mobile devices and tablet computers.
According to research by Morgan Stanley,
annual sales of smart phones such as the
Android, Blackberry and iPhone will exceed
sales of desktop PCs by 2012.
9
Equipped
with a variety of sensors, these devices
provide a particularly fertile environment
for the next generation of interactive social
technologies. Location tracking, for example,
means that content can be accurately geo-
tagged. In the developing world, mobile
phones are especially important to the
adoption of the web and social technologies
- indeed, they enable countries to ‘leap frog’
the need for a wired infrastructure.
The fourth trend is the growing appeal
of personalisation software. The ‘noise’
created by digital sharing has triggered the
development of applications and services
that offer users a cleaner interface, which
is tailored to their particular interests
and integrated with their social network.
For example, the iPad has enabled novel
applications such as Flipboard and Pulse
News, which automatically aggregate
information feeds into a digital magazine
format. As one analyst noted, the ‘rules of
print media are fnding a new life on mobile
devices as users increasingly opt to visually
de-clutter through curated apps’.
1.3 News publishing reveals the
convergence of traditional
and digital media
A
common misconception is that traditional
and digital media are locked in opposition.
Although it is true that digital media has
created profound challenges for traditional
media, most of all through the fragmentation
of advertising and audience attention, it is
also true that the social dimensions of digital
media are extremely valuable to existing
media brands, in particular news publishers.
Under pressure to adopt a more
collaborative and participatory approach,
news publishers have started opening to the
potential of social technologies. There is a
growing consensus among publishers that
social technologies are an important additive
to their business models. This is evident in a
variety of areas.
In news gathering, for example,
publishers are mining the realtime web for
trends, stories and eyewitness accounts.
Never before have so many eyewitnesses
been available to the media or visible to
the wider public.
10
Publishers also beneft
from immediate audience feedback to their
coverage. Social technologies are forming
new channels of communication between
the makers and subjects of news; notably
in the business sector, where leading
journalists and corporate communicators
now regularly follow each other.
Channels such as Facebook and Twitter
now provide an important source of traffc
to news websites, as do aggregators such
as Digg, Google Reader or Feedly. In the
case of broadcast news websites, Facebook
is now referring three times as much
traffc as Google search.
11
Publishers are
also beginning to use mobile social gaming
platforms, such as Four Square and Gowalla,
as an additional route to the audience.
12
Live news events are increasingly
supplemented with comments, photos
and videos from the audience. ITV News
recently announced plans to incorporate
social updates into its television bulletins:
viewers will be able to direct questions to
reporters and guests in realtime.
13
Specialist
publishers, such as the FT, have created their
own community hubs in order to engage
directly with the audience (for example,
via FT Alphaville and the forthcoming FT
Tilt). Indeed, such hubs are seen by many
companies as an important platform for
monitoring and managing their reputation.
The result of these trends is a more
hybrid, symbiotic and fuid media landscape:
coverage of news stories now tends to
rely on a blend of information from both
traditional and digital sources of media.
On the one hand, traditional media
brands still have immense reach and
infuence, particularly around major stories.
The latest research by NMIncite continues
to show that the traditional media brands
still drive and defne the news agenda.
14
On
the other hand, however, these brands also
function as anchors for the constellation
of content now being generated by social
technologies. As one editor described:
‘Despite the explosion of web 2.0 and user
generated content, existing media brands still
function in a very important way as flters for
the digital audience... Although it is possible
for stories to go viral without our help, in most
cases the process of viral distribution is helped
along by the reach and visibility that an old
media brand confers’.
News stories are now subjected to
a much greater degree of scrutiny and
questioning. Perhaps the most signifcant
aspect of social technologies is that, by
aggregating opinion and otherwise disparate
experiences in realtime, it serves to amplify
attention around contemporary issues.
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Again, this effect was particularly
noticeable during recent coverage of the
Gulf of Mexico oil spill: social technologies
provided people with a platform through
which they could easily vent their anger.
Demonstrating the symbiosis with
traditional media, this sentiment was then
quickly funneled and amplifed through
broadcast channels and newspapers. The
result for BP was an ‘unprecedented intensity
of focus and an unprecedented attack’.
15
1.4 Digital media is
transforming the business
and craft of journalism
T
he convergence of traditional and digital
media through social technologies is
resulting in the redesign of newsrooms. As
print circulation and broadcast audiences
continue to dwindle, publishers are looking
to the web for new sources of advertising
and audience attention.
As a consequence, there is a frenetic
‘race for clicks’ as publishers try to
keep users on their websites (or mobile
applications) as long as possible.
16
‘Digital
media is now very much at the heart of what
we do on a daily, even hourly basis’, explained
an editor. ‘There is now instant feedback from
the web... we are now inundated with data
about what our audience is reading and what is
likely to be popular going forward’. The impact
on journalism is arguably transformative.
Once limited to either print or
broadcast, journalists are now required
to master a variety of skills. Across the
industry, as one commentator pointed out,
newsrooms are being re-cast as ‘digital
centrifuges’, the sole purpose of which is
to produce a consistent stream of content,
increasingly on a 24/7 basis, with a view to
maximising clicks and advertising revenue.
As one editor noted: ‘We are moving towards
a system of performance-related pay, which is
dominated by metrics and web analytics’. In
the words of another editor: ‘Generating
traffc and creating a loyal online following are
becoming the modus operandi of journalism in
the digital era’.
The dangers inherent to this approach
are becoming clear: under pressure to
perform, journalists in many newsrooms
are complaining of ‘digital burnout’.
17
With
budgets already limited, journalists are
required to supply content to a widening
array of digital channels, typically without
any increase in pay. In a recent upgrade of
its digital activities, for example, Forbes
announced that every reporter would
be required to have their own blog.
18

‘Participation in social channels is now essential
to climbing the ladder’, commented a business
journalist at another prominent publisher.
The risk, in this quest for speed, is that
the quality and accuracy of news coverage
will suffer. The screen-tethered nature of
contemporary journalism means, in practical
terms, that there is less time for face-to-face
meetings, less time to triangulate stories and
less time to confrm facts before publishing.
The increasingly realtime pace of news
publishing means that mistakes, hoaxes and
misinformation are more likely than ever.
These effects are unevenly distributed
across the media landscape. The pressure
is arguably greatest at publishers of general
news and comment, where business
models for journalism are being eroded at
a faster rate.
The outlook is brighter for publishers
of specialist and time-sensitive news,
particularly in the business and fnancial
media. For example, leading publishers such
as the Economist, the FT and the Wall Street
Journal have successfully enticed subscribers
within their ‘paywalls’. The FT, for example,
increased its base of digital subscribers by
27% between 2009-10. To borrow a phrase
from William Powers, these brands have
sought to position themselves as ‘islands of
peace’ within the chaos of the wider digital
media landscape.
19
Indeed, in the opinion of several
respondents, there is now a discernible
fight to ‘curated quality’ in the business and
fnancial media - which is due, in large part,
to the importance of accurate, timely and
well-researched information to decision
makers.
Publishers of business and fnancial
news are seeking to further differentiate
themselves: frst, by adding a raft of
community and sharing features to their
paywalls; and second, by developing
magazine-like applications for mobile
devices, which combines the order of a
printed product with the interactivity of the
web. As one publisher observed, the ‘paywall
isn’t meant to keep people out; it is designed to
attract and keep our most loyal customers in’.
There are numerous commercial
benefts of paywalls, especially for specialist
publishers of business news. First and
foremost, they provide publishers with a
more predictable guide to income, which
allows for more concrete strategic planning
and investments. Second, the lower levels of
web traffc that are typically associated with
paywalls are often more than compensated
by the detailed information that publishers
are able to collect about their subscribers.
A
cross the industry,
newsrooms are
being re-cast as ‘digital
centrifuges’, the sole
purpose of which is to
produce a consistent
stream of content,
increasingly on a 24/7
basis, with a view to
maximising clicks and
advertising revenue.
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Not only does this help the editorial
team shape the product more closely to
the behaviour of the audience and thereby
increase ‘dwell time’ on the website
and/or mobile applications; it also enables
publishers to sell digital advertising space
more effectively (and crucially, at above-
market rates) via the analysis of
behavioural metrics.
20

By nurturing communities behind their
paywalls, moreover, publishers also have the
opportunity to sell reputation management
and monitoring tools to companies. For
example, Forbes recently began using reader
comments as the basis for a new reputation
tracking tool.
21
According to John Ridding,
CEO of the FT:
‘What we hadn’t realised, and what may
turn out to be bigger beneft, is that [the
paywall] provides a deeper understanding of
our audience. Without contravening people’s
privacy, the data supplied by users enables us
to know much more about them, allowing us to
observe patterns of interest and trends’.
22
1.5 Social technologies herald
a renaissance in corporate
communications
S
ocial technologies are typically portrayed
as a threat to companies. In one respect,
it is true that social technologies enable a
more varied, participatory and unpredictable
landscape of news and comment - which
in turn exposes companies to a far greater
degree of public scrutiny than allowed by
traditional media alone.
23
Indeed, the viral nature of social
technologies means that negative
information about a company, whether true
or false, quickly permeates both digital and
traditional media channels. In recent years,
a variety of high-profle companies have
suffered reputational damage as a direct
result of digital media activity.
The list includes global brands such as
Dell, Dominos Pizza, Nestle, Starbucks and
United Airlines. In each case, the aggregation
and amplifcation of opinion allowed
by social technologies exposed these
companies to unprecedented amounts of
negative publicity.
24
However, by responding to the threats
created by social technologies these
companies also found new and more
powerful ways of engaging with the outside
world. Dell and Starbucks, for example,
respectively launched ‘Idea Storm’ and
‘My Starbucks Idea’ in an effort to
incorporate consumer opinions and
suggestions more directly into their
operating practices. The result has
been overwhelmingly positive for both
companies.
Which underscores a key point in
this report: rather than spelling outright
disruption for companies, social technologies
actually herald a renaissance in corporate
communications. Thanks to their reach
and interactivity, social technologies allow
companies to extend and enrich their
existing communications activities. The
overall impact is arguably evolutionary, not
revolutionary.
Indeed, the skills and best practices that
have traditionally underpinned corporate
communications continue to have immense
value in the digital age. Whatever the
channel, corporate communications is
still defned by the ability to represent
the interests of the company to a variety
of stakeholders - employees, customers,
investors, partners and regulatory bodies.
Although it is expanding into an array of
digital channels, the craft of corporate
communications continues to rely on a
series of orchestrated interactions, all
pivoting around a central narrative.
Social technologies allow for
an evolution and extension of that
core function - not least through the
development of realtime conversations with
the company’s stakeholders.
There is a huge opportunity, in particular,
for corporate communicators to actively
participate in the rapidly expanding gift
economies of the web - and in doing so,
win the attention and respect of digital
audiences. By drawing on their existing
resources and relationships,
communicators have the opportunity to
contribute relevant content that both
engages audiences and stimulates debates -
for example, in the form of product-specifc
messages or campaigns about broader
environmental or economic issues.
Nonetheless, the successful evolution
of corporate communications will also
demand a variety of internal changes, both
cultural and operational. The key challenge
will be building a digital communications
structure, within the context of existing
practices, which is suffciently agile, open and
innovative to embrace the potential of social
technologies. With the convergence of the
media landscape, communicators will need
to master a much wider variety of channels
and technologies, both in their interface
with digital newsrooms and in their direct
interaction with individuals.
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1.6 Structure of the report
D
igital media demands that companies
adopt a more authentic, open
and responsive approach to their
communications with stakeholders. The
prevailing model of reputation management
needs to be updated to take into account
both the challenges and opportunities
arising from digital media.
In the remainder of this report, we
identify the most signifcant forces of change
in corporate communications - and in doing
so, outline what we see as the principal
components of an alternative approach to
reputation management, which is better
suited for the new converged media
landscape. Those components are outlined
in two steps.
Part 2 argues that digital media heralds
a new paradigm of reputation management.
The model of communications that
fourished under traditional media needs to
take into account the speed and participation
enabled by digital media. As a result, the
executive culture around communications
needs to evolve to embrace the possibilities
of digital media. To successfully manage
digital reputation, communicators must be
willing to adopt a more curious, humble and
collaborative stance.
Part 3 then moves on to argue that
cultural change must be accompanied by
substantive changes to the operational
structure of communications. The key
challenge is building a new structure that is
equipped to manage the interface between
internal and external information fows.
Communications teams will need new
resources, training and systems to effectively
navigate the information generated internally
as they simultaneously try to monitor and
engage with external digital media activity.
In summary, we suggest that central
teams consider appointing a ‘satellite’
network of digital advocates both to create
a framework of best practice around social
technologies and to support the company’s
external communications.
The report concludes by weaving
together all of the evidence presented into
a visual fow diagram, which details the
general operation of the ‘satellite model’. The
purpose of this visualisation is to identify
the specifc components that companies
need to build as part of a wider digital
communications structure. Although the
central communications team is argued to
be the principal instrument of change, the
report also identifes strategies that will have
ripple effects across the wider company.
D
igital media
heralds a new
paradigm of reputation
management.
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T
he era of traditional media encouraged
company executives to think about their
reputation in very specifc ways. The ‘linear’
structure of traditional media fostered
the assumption that information could be
funneled to a select group of publishers. It
was a top-down model of communications.
Reputation was effectively shaped via a
close-knit network of relationships between
executives and newsrooms.
The digital renaissance in corporate
communications will depend on companies
updating this legacy model. The speed and
scale of participation enabled by social
technologies heralds a new paradigm of
reputation management. To adapt to this
new paradigm, and successfully navigate the
converged media landscape, companies must
be willing to open their executive culture to
a greater degree of curiosity, humility and
collaboration.
Perhaps the clearest indication of
the change is the evolution of corporate
communications beyond the conventional
realm of press releases and fnancial
reporting. To be sure, these remain
important mechanisms of communication
and disclosure; however, communicators
are also developing new capabilities, and
generating different kinds of content,
through their participation in the gift
economies of the web.
Increasingly, for example, communicators
are learning to adopt a more authentic
and conversational tone vis a vis external
stakeholders. They are beginning to engage
with issues, announcements and discussions
that, in the past, would have been too specifc
(or feeting) to justify a conventional press
release. There is a powerful shift from top-
down to bottom-up communication - and in
tandem, a blurring of the boundary between
communicators and their audiences.
2.1 Digital media has triggered
a paradigm shift in reputation
management
D
igital media heralds an inexorable
shift towards greater openness. With
the mass adoption of social technologies,
consumers increasingly expect transparency
from both public and private institutions.
However, there is still a surprisingly wide
gulf between the expectations of consumers
and the ability of these institutions to adapt.
In corporate communications as a whole,
there is still considerable uncertainty around
digital media. Some companies doubt its
long-term signifcance and remain very
much wedded to traditional media as a
platform for communications and reputation
management. As one analyst noted:
‘Recognisable brands such as the FT or Wall
Street Journal, in addition to the trade press and
investment bank reports especially, are still seen
as the real anchors of reputation. Digital media
is only now appearing on corporate radars’.
In the words of a communications
executive: ‘Despite all this talk of tweets and
likes on Facebook, I still don’t see how social
[technologies] impact the bottom line’. To
quote another: ‘We measure the success of
our communications strategy in relation to the
stock price: digital [media] coverage, however
sexy it may sound, practically does not fgure’.
To some extent, these criticisms are
entirely valid. Away from the gaze of
consumer attention, certain sectors are
admittedly shielded from social technologies.
Open sharing of information is anathema
to sectors where the principal agents of
business activity and investment are highly
guarded and closed in their approach.
Whether it is the esoteric language
of the sector, the pivotal role of face-
to-face relationships in deal making, or
the paramount importance of client
confdentiality and trade secrets, certain
parts of the business landscape are unlikely
to be illuminated by social technologies
anytime soon. A private investor made the
following remarks:
‘From our perspective, the digital media
revolution is still very much at the margins of
our consciousness. It looks and feels like a space
where consumers dish out complaints or praise
to visible brands... [and] where those brands
jostle to please the average consumer. I simply
don’t see digital media ever bringing the same
level of open dialogue to our business’.
Such pockets of secrecy will of
course remain, especially in guarded
sectors such as arms procurement or
Part 2
Opening the Executive Culture
of Communications
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bio-pharmacological research. Technology
also permits the extension of closed
communities through invite-only
networks and encryption tools. Still, the
security vulnerabilities inherent to digital
communication have reinforced the appeal
and value of offine interaction,
particularly when it concerns sensitive
information. As we discuss below, the
spontaneity and interactivity afforded by
digital media is no substitute for formal
channels of fnancial and regulatory
disclosure; indeed, it means that top-down
controls and guidelines are needed more
than ever to regulate the new mechanisms
of bottom-up communication.
Nonetheless, the overall outlook
does point towards increased openness
in communications. Across a variety of
sectors, companies are acknowledging
the importance of digital media from a
marketing and communications perspective.
Social technologies are now at the heart of
executive statements, notably for consumer-
facing brands.
On a practical level, however, there
is still considerable resistance to the
changes demanded by social technologies.
‘The principal challenge’, as one executive
described, ‘is that these technologies require
more authenticity, curiosity, humility, openness
to failure - which for many if not most of the
largest companies is a formidable challenge
indeed’. In many companies, the cultural
attachment to traditional media often
obscures the potential of digital media. To
succeed, companies need to open their
executive culture to the possibilities of a
converged media landscape.
2.2 The speed and participation
of digital media challenges the
prevailing culture of reputation
management
S
ocial technologies require corporate
communicators to accept that there
is now very little that can be hidden from
public view, and that they must be ready
to reconcile contradictory or questionable
practices at very short notice. As a result,
corporate reputation is much more
contingent and unpredictable. Underlying
this are two more specifc issues that
challenge prevailing wisdom.
The frst is the speed at which the new
digital media landscape operates. As the web
becomes a 24/7 realtime communications
channel, executives are required to think
and respond at the same speed.
Digital activity affecting the brand can
now emerge at anytime of day or night.
Not only does this demand more from
executives outside normal working hours,
it also requires the communications
team to operate at a faster tempo than
currently allowed by existing procedures.
‘Responsiveness to digital media means that we
sometimes have to bypass what are extremely
laborious procedures for contemplating, creating,
massaging and then [writing] press releases’,
commented one executive.
The second is the multiplicity of
sources through which information now
fows. Traditional media no longer holds
a monopoly over the production and
distribution of news or comment. Social
technologies enable millions of individuals to
play a more active role in the coverage and
analysis of world events.
Crucially, they also give rise to virtually
networked groups and platforms which
can hold powerful institutions to account
- WikiLeaks being a prominent recent
example. One of the great challenges of
social technologies is that they require
corporate communicators to take these
new participants seriously and to open their
minds to the possibility of an alternative style
of dialogue, as one executive recognised:
‘We are being forced to grant legitimacy to
sources that still lack widespread acceptance in
the corporate world... It is quite a leap in thinking
to accept that digital media will be as formative
to our reputations as traditional media’.
2.3 Reputation management
now relies on new relationships
A
ll of which means forming and
sustaining new kinds of relationships via
social technologies, particularly via the gift
economy model of exchange. It is now vital
that companies analyse where their most
valued stakeholders are producing, acquiring
and sharing information - a process that
Charlene Li terms ‘socialgraphics’. In turn,
they must strive to create a dialogue with
those sources, whether it is a blog, a social
network or a community-focused website.
25

In the words of one analyst:
‘companies are slowly but surely awaking to
the fact that they have to follow the audience
and build a meaningful presence on a variety
of platforms’.
Sustaining that presence is arguably
the hardest part for companies to grasp.
‘The essence of digital media is realtime
conversation - companies now need the interest
and capability to sustain that conversation’,
I
t is now vital that
companies analyse
where their most
valued stakeholders
are producing,
acquiring and sharing
information.
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commented one executive. Some companies
still tend to view social technologies through
an adversarial lens, which limits their
communications to either a narrow topic
or a period of time (such as remedying the
effects of a crisis).
Social technologies have the potential to
yield the greatest opportunities for brand
building and community engagement when
communications are sustained in a consistent
fashion. By regularly contributing content
that engages and stimulates, for example,
companies can establish a leading role in the
gift economies of the web. The top tier of
management has the potential to drive this
process of engagement and provide a digital
‘plot line’ for the wider company.
However, a recent survey by Weber
Shandwick shows that this point is still missed
by most of the world’s largest companies.
According to the research, for example,
few companies are effectively using social
technologies to position and disseminate
comments from senior executives.
26

In general, the companies that are
most developed in their approach to social
technologies tend to be consumer-facing,
especially those that have faced a digital
crisis. It was only through their direct
experience that they began to redefne their
approach to communications and reputation
management. In the remainder of Part 2, we
examine more closely how the executive
culture of corporate communications needs
to change if companies are to prosper with
digital media.
2.4 Collaboration is the
keystone of successful digital
communication
S
lowly but surely, companies are
beginning to take digital media seriously.
There is a growing realisation that social
technologies require a more open approach
to communications and reputation
management, as one executive admitted:
‘Its no longer about whether we should
respond to this technology; its more about how
we join the online conversation that is happening
anyway. If companies don’t reach out in new
ways, they risk being left behind. A reluctance to
engage only triggers negative sentiment’.
No longer can companies protect
their reputations behind ‘messaged
spokespeople’, as one interviewee put it, or
‘the usual formulaic press releases’. On the
contrary, the age of digital media enables
and indeed demands more direct and
personal forms of communication.
‘Engaging early, clarifying, compromising,
staying calm - these are the hallmarks of
effective communication on the web’.
To successfully adapt, companies
must have a senior management team
that is willing to embrace the spirit of
digital collaboration. A collaborative
approach to communications has profound
implications. It requires that the corporate
communications team recast themselves
as enablers rather than controllers of
information fows.
Jeff Jarvis argues that companies need to
‘think in a more distributed fashion’; that is,
they should seek to embed their brand and
their wider communications strategy across
a variety of digital platforms, around which
users are congregating.
27
Being ‘platform
neutral’ is essential, as one consultant
emphasised. Rather than taking a completely
centralised approach, communicators
are likely to have greater success if they
participate in the myriad gift economies of
the web.
This is not to suggest that companies
abandon their own websites or existing
internal mechanisms of information
production and distribution; rather, that
these channels are integrated with the
wider conversations, communities and gift
economies that social technologies now
enable. For example, in her new book,
Open Leadership, Charlene Li suggests that
companies position their websites as hubs
around which users can congregate and
participate in discussion.
More specifcally, the key is to view the
company’s digital presence as part of a much
wider ecology of news and comment. As one
executive admitted, ‘It is no longer realistic to
try to control the company’s reputation; all that
communicators can do is position the brand in
the best possible light, taking into account the
available data’.
The task for executive communicators is
allowing users a more authentic and fexible
experience in their engagement with the
company. The following comments, made by
a communications expert, build on this train
of thought:
‘It makes more and more sense for
companies to take a lead role in publishing
data and information around which others
can then generate their own insights... The
communications team should be falling over
itself to stay ahead of the digital news fow. The
information is going to come out anyway, so why
not position the company as a leader - even if
that means admitting mistakes and giving space
to criticism up front’.
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2.5 By contributing content
and creating platforms,
communicators have an
opportunity to build trust
B
y explicitly opting for fexibility in their
approach, corporate communicators
have the opportunity to build a great deal of
trust with a variety of stakeholders. In their
research for McKinsey, for example, Bonini
et al. argue that ‘absolute transparency is now
the best antidote to a digital crisis’. In practical
terms, this means that companies consider
adding the following elements to their digital
presence:
An open and realtime communications
channel through which company
executives can update the outside world
on news, events or crises as they are
unfolding - and what the company is
doing to resolve the situation (e.g. via
Facebook or Twitter).
Authorisation for the communications
team (or selected members thereof)
to update the company’s digital
presence in realtime, including both its
central website and appropriate social
technology platforms.
A comprehensive online database
with up-to-date (and crucially, verifed)
information, encompassing text, data,
audio and video, which different
stakeholders can use to build their own
interpretation of events.
Providing space for meaningful dialogue,
and user-generated ratings, even if that
means allowing users the opportunity
to criticise the company’s products or
activities, or participate in discussions
that are ostensibly ‘off brand’.
28
Building customer-led websites to assist
with problem solving and customer
service, which are argued by many to
more effcient tools because they enable
companies to harness the loyalty and
knowledge of their best customers.
29
Ensuring that the corporate
communications team has the resources
and training to produce and package
digital-media friendly content, both
for traditional newsrooms and other
stakeholders such as consumers and
regulatory bodies.
To be effective, however, these strategies
need to be coupled with an executive
culture of curiosity and humility. It is not
enough for companies to simply create






platforms for feedback; they also need to be
willing to seriously consider and respond
to user-generated ideas. The speed at which
feedback is now generated and collated also
requires companies to adopt a more nimble
approach.
Social technologies accelerate the
aggregation of sentiment, with the result
that companies must respond to issues in
less time and in ways that bypass existing
protocols. In contrast to the relatively gentle
tempo of traditional media, for example,
digital media coverage demands companies
act instantly.
A recent illustration was the situation
faced by Air Canada after baggage handlers
damaged a passenger’s wheelchair. News
that a 10-year old disabled boy had arrived
in New York from an Air Canada fight
to fnd his specialist wheelchair in pieces
sparked fury on social networking sites such
as Twitter. Facing a public relations disaster,
Air Canada was compelled to repair the
wheelchair within hours of the incident.
30

These and similar stories suggest that
social technologies are becoming a new
source of consumer power, albeit for a
relatively narrow segment of the market
and typically for those individuals who are
deemed to have a degree of digital
infuence worthy of attention. A growing
number of companies are now using
channels such as Twitter to resolve
customer complaints and as an early
warning radar against potential crises.
31

Many are also beginning to tap services such
as Klout and Peer Index to assess the digital
infuence of particular users.
32
The speed at which digital crises can
form and impact a company mean that
communicators need to work more
directly with particular divisions of the
company, not least to harvest the very
latest information. As the following section
highlights, this points to another important
shift in executive thinking around corporate
communications.
2.6 The authenticity of digital
communications relies on
contributions from employees
across the company, not
just a specialist cadre of
communicators
T
o effectively manage their digital
reputations, particularly during periods
of crisis, communicators also need to
look more broadly inside the company for
sources of relevant information.
S
ocial technologies
accelerate the
aggregation of
sentiment, with the
result that companies
must respond to
issues in less time and
in ways that bypass
existing protocols.
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As Charlene Li contends, communicators
must fnd ways of tapping the collective
experience and loyalty of the company’s
employees.
Rather than holding a monopoly over
corporate information, executives arguably
need to incorporate the ideas, insights and
recommendations from employees in other
divisions when they are preparing digital
communications. In doing so, they also need
to participate in the conversations that are
already happening internally. In other words,
the collaborative spirit of digital media should
also permeate the company from within.
This kind of inner collaboration is vital to the
authenticity of digital communications.
By supplementing their digital
presence with content from the frontline,
communicators are in a much better
position to win attention and trust in the
gift economies of the web. The inclusion
of accurate, up-to-date and relevant
information adds considerable force to
digital communications, particularly if it is
written in a more authentic and human
tone. For example, it was arguably due to
a mismanagement of information from the
frontline (which included inaccurate data,
doctored photos and formulaic statements)
that BP’s public profle suffered so greatly
during the Gulf of Mexico crisis.
Collaboration is also a necessity
given that companies are rendered more
transparent by digital media. The adoption
of social technologies such as Facebook
and Twitter means that every employee is a
potential source of information or point
of contact. In this context, it is even more
vital that communicators reach out to
the wider company, not only to marshal
good ideas but also to educate employees
about best practices around digital
communications. This last point is examined
in greater detail in Part 3.
In summary, the practical lesson from
this discussion is that, to prosper with
digital media, executives must be willing
to move beyond the assumptions that
have traditionally defned communications
and reputation management. Alongside
this shift in executive thinking, companies
must also be ready to implement a new
structure of communications, which is more
open, responsive and collaborative - both
internally and externally. In turn, that means
giving the central communications team
the authority and resources both to collate
information from across the company and
to directly engage in realtime with the
company’s digital presence.

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A
t an enterprise-scale, digital media
is having profound impacts on the
way information is produced, stored and
managed. Companies are now awash in data.
As a result, many are increasingly turning
to ‘social enterprise’ applications to better
manage their internal knowledge reserves,
whether it is structured databases or the
thoughts, insights and recommendations of
employees worldwide.
Corporate communications is therefore
sandwiched between two bodies of
information - internal and external to the
company - both of which are mushrooming
due to social technologies. The challenge
for communicators is determining how
best to develop a digital communications
structure that allows them to navigate the
company’s internal information fows as they
concurrently monitor and engage with the
external fows of news and comment about
the company.
The implication is that corporate
communications will need new resources,
training and systems to manage the interface
between internal and external information
fows, increasingly on a realtime basis. The
communications team will also need to forge
closer relationships with different parts of
the company - in particular, via partnerships
with what we term ‘digital advocates’.
Echoing the view recently articulated
by Josh Bernoff and Ted Schadler in their
book, Empowered, we put forward a
‘satellite’ model of digital communications.
33

In this hypothetical model, the central
team enables, monitors and coordinates
a distributed network of advocates, who
speak on behalf of the company within
designated areas of specialism and have the
creative freedom to experiment with social
technologies. The core elements of the
satellite model are depicted in Figure 1.
The keystone of the satellite model,
and the future of communications in
general, is argued to be collaboration -
or more accurately, an executive culture
that is willing to explore the collaborative
dimensions of social technologies. Only
then can communicators begin to (1) devise
a framework of best practice around which
employees should be free to innovate and
(2) invest in the systems and training through
which employees and advocates will be able
to communicate internally and externally.
We suggest that communicators delegate
carefully defned responsibilities to a satellite
network of advocates, who are responsible
Part 3
Building a Digital Communications
Structure
Figure 1 The Satellite Model of Digital Communications
Devising a
framework
of best
practice
Opening
executive
culture
Investing in
social
enterprise
applications
Appointing a network of digital advocates
T
he keystone of the
satellite model,
and the future of
communications in
general, is argued to be
collaboration.
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for speaking on behalf of the company via
the latest social applications. In this way,
specialist information from the front line can
more easily fow into the gift economies of
the web and thereby cement the company’s
position as a trusted contributor to those
conversations.
The central team will continue to play a
pivotal role - notably via setting standards,
defning strategy, providing a digital ‘plot line’,
coordinating messages, training advocates
and monitoring media activity, in addition to
their existing responsibilities.
However, the satellite network could
effectively become the company’s principal
interface with digital participants. Focused
on their respective felds of specialism, the
advocates would be able to offer a more
authentic, engaged and responsive interface
with the company via social technologies.
The rationale for the satellite model is
explained in the following sections.
3.1 Digital media is leading
to a raft of ‘social enterprise’
applications
T
he collaborative possibilities of digital
media are transforming the way
companies manage their skills, talent and
collective experience. The same technologies
that gave rise to activities such as photo or
video sharing and status updates between
friends are now gaining momentum in the
corporate sector.
In particular, social technologies make
it easier for companies to record, organise
and share information as it is created on a
global basis. In the words of one consultant,
this reduces the amount of ‘organisational
friction’ that typically restricts the fow of
ideas and the resolution of problems within
a company.
Led by technology providers such as
IBM, Jive Software, Microsoft, Salesforce,
SAS and Tibco, a new sector oriented
around ‘social enterprise’ applications is
rapidly emerging. In general terms, the
purpose of social enterprise applications is
to enable more visual and effcient forms
of collaboration between employees. They
effectively function as a professional ‘gift
economy’ in which employees contribute
content, refne their expertise and build
a reputation:
‘Post the new sales presentation you’ve
updated and it will show up in the feeds of
your colleagues... Collaborate with colleagues
to prepare for the big customer meeting next
week... Follow experts in your company for
tips on how best to close deals or fnd industry
expertise... Follow important customer accounts
to be sure issues and open items are resolved...
Post questions to your company network to
receive advice and relevant documents from
your colleagues across all departments’
(Kraig Swensrud, Salesforce).
34
These applications are signifcant to the
feld of corporate reputation management
because, in theory at least, they provide
communicators with comprehensive access
to enterprise-level data.
They provide a ‘layer’ of applications (e.g.
databases, internal micro-blogging, customer
relationship management software) which
communicators can use to supplement and
enrich their messages. Moreover, companies
may choose to give consumers and digital
advocates realtime access to designated
parts of the social enterprise layer in order
to encourage participation and build trust, as
discussed in section 2.5.
To implement and take advantage
of the social enterprise layer, however,
communications teams will require
expertise from existing web and IT teams
- not least due to the technical and
logistical challenges associated with realtime
information harvesting. ‘Some degree of
cross-departmental cooperation is inevitable’,
explained one executive in relation to the
variety of skills that are now integral to
digital communications. ‘You really need web
specialists and computer and network engineers
working in concert with communicators to
ensure the communications machine is always
running smoothly’.
3.2 Social technologies allow
companies to better manage
their knowledge
H
istorically, these technologies are
obviously far from new. ‘Knowledge
management’ has been a much vaunted area
of business since the advent of modern
computing and telecommunications. Email
lists, discussion boards and intranets have
been the backbone of organisational
collaboration for decades.
However, the changes brought
about by social technologies do point
towards a paradigm shift in the speed and
interactivity of knowledge management
in large companies. Due to advances
in realtime indexing and user interface
design, for example, the latest generation
of technologies mean that companies are
increasingly able to visualise and manage
a much wider array of organisational
knowledge. As one communications
executive described in detail,
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‘Collaboration tools are becoming more
personal, more relevant and more useful...
almost a [realtime] map of information in
the company. In the past, one of the big
barriers to this kind of activity was that
central tools like intranets and databases
were very much a top down and centralised
approach. Now the latest tools are ... more
user oriented, they blend into the working
environment with greater ease - so much
so in fact that it becomes easier for the
average worker to share those aspects of their
experience that were previously hidden...
rough ideas, gut feelings, tips and advice for
others ... which when organised into a
collective whole provide executives with a
much richer picture of the company’s
knowledge reserves’.
To draw upon the distinction made
by the philosopher Michael Polanyi, social
technologies help companies to visualise
and navigate both structured knowledge
(data, revenues, investments, targets) and
tacit knowledge (intuition and experience
acquired through practice).
35
By enabling
employees to interact and form new
groups, often across large distances, social
technologies also have the potential to
trigger new ideas as well as novel solutions
to long-running problems. This is a vital
resource for the advocates within the
satellite model.
Dow Chemical, for example, created an
internal social network to help its region
managers identify the talent and skills they
needed to execute projects across different
sectors. To broaden the pool of talent on
the network, Dow even took the unusual
step of including former employees, such as
retirees.
36

A growing number of companies are
now implementing similar initiatives, with
examples ranging from online mentoring
systems (where specialists are appointed
to assist with training and problem solving
in other parts of the business) to more
sophisticated prediction markets (where
votes cast by employees can help to identify
and forecast business risks), such as that
operated by Crowdcast.
37
As Charlene Li explains in her latest
book, Open Leadership, social technologies
not only spur knowledge sharing; they also
make sense from an operations and fnancial
viewpoint. Cisco, for example, is believed
to have saved over $655 million through
social enterprise applications; not least by
streamlining efforts, reducing duplication,
and obviating the need for expensive
international travel.
3.3 Internal knowledge
management is a vital additive
to external communications
A
s companies retool themselves for
realtime collaboration, communicators
are gaining access to a far greater range
and depth of information. Harnessing
social technologies in this way is a vital
step if companies are to make their
communications more open and authentic
in the age of digital media. As noted,
information from the ‘frontline’ is especially
infuential during periods of crisis: indeed,
it is at such moments that communicators
frequently struggle to sustain a clear,
confdent and verifable narrative.
The adoption of social enterprise
applications will also have knock-on
effects for internal communications. As
more information is recorded and shared,
the challenge is distilling the noise of the
company into meaningful patterns and
usable data. The communicators of the
future will need to consume and evaluate
a much wider variety of information to
succeed. They will also need to cross-
reference information generated inside
the company with digital media activity
around the brand. In this regard, digital
advocates will play an important role
as flters and interpreters of specialist
information fows.
As one executive commented, ‘with all
this information now fying around, it will be
harder and harder for communicators to fnd
and assemble the relevant facts when preparing
their media messages’. Another explained:
‘Not only are communicators under pressure
to respond any time of day or night... they are
also under pressure to flter all of the internal
information that may or may not be relevant to
that response’. A key step for companies will
be fnding the right advocates and investing
in the right systems to assist with this
process of internal navigation.
Although frequently user-friendly in
their design, however, social enterprise
applications may simply demand too much
time, investment and cultural adjustment for
some companies, at least initially.
‘Being social just gets in the way of day-to-day
responsibilities’, complained one executive in
relation to the impact of these applications.
‘Until they become part and parcel of the
workfow, and are proven to make a fnancial
contribution, there will be a huge amount of
resistance to this kind of activity’.
Where these technologies do gain a
foothold, however, communicators will be
S
ocial technologies
not only spur
knowledge sharing;
they also make sense
from an operations
and fnancial
viewpoint.
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required to develop new skills specifc to
the latest applications and platforms:
‘As the nature of employee collaboration
changes, the skills to perform well in an offce
environment may follow suit. No longer is it
enough to be able to infer from an email what
needs to be done and then set priorities. Now, an
astute observer could see on a Chatter-like service
that, despite the communication in the email, she
should be setting different priorities based on the
communication across the organization’.
38
More generally, the adoption of social
technologies will also require a greater
degree of internal coordination between
business units. This conficts with a tendency,
in many companies, for information and
resources to be hoarded by regional- or
product-specifc units. ‘Breaking down the
silos within any organisation is the single
biggest barrier to the social enterprise’, noted
one consultant.
Without an underlying strategic plan
in place, there is a risk that the usage
and value of social technologies will be
highly fragmented. To be effective, social
technologies need to be directed, managed
and monitored as part of a wider company-
wide approach to communications and
reputation management. The central
communications team will play an
instrumental role in that process.
3.4 Communicators need to
carefully manage the social
information fow
Although there is growing pressure for
companies to adopt a more open stance
towards their communications, they also
need to retain some degree of control
over the adoption of social technologies,
particularly in relation to the fow of
information at an enterprise scale and the
conduct of digital advocates. The pursuit
of realtime collaboration, for example, may
create tensions in the following areas.
First, as corporate boundaries become
more fuid through social technologies, there
is a risk that sensitive information relating
to operations or fnancial performance
leak into the public domain. To meet
their regulatory obligations, companies
must ensure that material statements are
delivered through formal channels with the
appropriate disclaimers. Social technologies
are no substitute for existing mechanisms
of fnancial and regulatory disclosure, which
will need to be sustained in parallel.
This applies to both structured
information (such as the typical press
release) as well as the ‘conversational’
information that is now routinely generated
between company representatives and
online participants. As we suggest below,
outgoing digital communications should
follow an underlying series of guidelines and
best practices - as well as, where justifed,
a streamlined system of executive review
prior to publication.
Second, there are also implications for
the confdentiality of corporate information.
Refecting a wider distrust with digital
media, there are questions surrounding the
security of web-based platforms for realtime
collaboration. Although encrypted and
theoretically limited to internal use, senior
management in some companies still view
platforms such as Yammer or Chatter with
considerable skepticism, as the following
quote suggests:
‘The ease with which these [platforms] can
record and transmit information so quickly is
what scares corporates. Added to that is the small
possibility that a fragment of the information
stream will somehow fnd its way outside the
company. With that as a backdrop, many
are holding back from truly open enterprise
collaboration... and that in turn provides enough
of a justifcation to limit what employees can do
and say on those internal platforms’.
Third, another area of contention is
productivity. In a recent survey of 1400 chief
information offcers, Robert Half Technology
found that fewer than 10% companies
gave their employees full access to social
technologies due to the potential impact
on productivity.
39
There is still a widely held
view that digital media equates with ‘social
notworking’. Companies are still reluctant to
allocate the resources required for realtime
collaboration, at least until the fnancial
benefts are better understood.
Fourth, the participation of more
employees in the exchange and development
of information also creates complications
from an external communications viewpoint.
Social technologies mean that every
employee (and even sub-contractor) is a
potential representative of the company
and a potential source of information.
Furthermore, these technologies blur the
boundaries between professional and private
spheres: whether at work or at home,
employee actions may impact the company.
For all these reasons, it is increasingly
important that companies devise a set
of guidelines to manage communications
in the social enterprise. As we describe
below, the satellite model must also be
accompanied with appropriate training of
digital advocates - both to instill core media
skills and to ensure that they only speak
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about designated topics in accordance with
a framework of best practice.
The misuse of social technologies, even
by a single employee or advocate, has
the capability to damage the company’s
reputation on a global basis, with astonishing
speed. The dangers have been demonstrated
vividly by recent incidents - for example,
the manipulation of Wikipedia pages by
Astra Zeneca, ‘mis-tweeting’ at Habitat and
Vodafone, or the publication of inaccurate
information at BP during the oil spill.
3.5 Social technology is best
managed in collaboration with
employees
R
ather than prescribing a rigid
approach, however, the consensus
view among interviewees is that social
enterprise guidelines should be created and
implemented in an organic fashion through
dialogue with employees.
In some cases, social technologies are so
integral to a company’s culture that the key
values are imbued during basic staff training.
A prominent example is the US online
retailer Zappos, which actively encourages
staff to use social technologies to share
information as part of a broader objective
to improve the overall customer experience.
‘The goal is to create a foundation for best
practices to evolve’, noted one communications
executive in relation to their latest approach. ‘It
is more effective and desirable to actively enroll
employees in the creation of evolving guidelines’,
explained another. ‘After all, this is a rapidly
changing space ... and the most innovative ideas
for ... communications may well come from
the youngest employees’. Refecting this view,
Felix Kugel, Vice President of Manpower Inc.,
argued that:
‘The foundation of any healthy social
network is an engaged community. Let
your employees help develop and enforce
your company’s guidelines. This approach will
certainly appeal to those employees most likely
to use social media, promoting trust in the goals
of the guidelines that ultimately are instituted’
(interview with the Moscow Times).
40
Some companies have already started
appointing digital advocates, particularly to
build community, trust and understanding
around social technologies in different parts
of the business. For example, Intel operates
a certifcation programme through which
employees across the company can become
offcially sanctioned digital communicators.
In turn, employees who are sanctioned
then form part of a distributed ‘centre of
excellence’, which is responsible for educating
others in the use of social technologies.
41

By fnding and empowering suitable
employees, argue Josh Bernoff and Ted
Schadler in a recent article for Harvard
Business Review, companies are in a better
position to harness social technologies and
effectively engage with consumers.
42
Building on this view, we argue here that
companies should adopt a satellite model of
communications. In this model, a specialist
network of advocates orbits and reports
back to the central communications team in
a symbiotic fashion. The central team creates
the guidelines and protocols for digital
communications; the advocates then craft
and promote their own messages around
those guidelines and protocols. This model
is arguably more scalable and cost-effcient
than, for example, the central team trying
to educate the company or handle digital
communications on its own.
In addition, digital advocates are
more likely to win the support and
understanding of their colleagues if they
are able to operate with a degree of
autonomy. Advocates can become agents
within distributed communities of engaged
employees. Examples of this approach
now abound. Companies are increasingly
appointing internal evangelists and specialists
to communicate about particular parts of
the business using social technologies. In
doing so, some of these communicators
have become infuential participants within
their respective felds.
A key challenge facing the satellite
model is ensuring that different parts of the
company are equally represented. Not only
does this help to raise a broader awareness
about social technologies, it also helps to
break down the rivalries associated with
different business units’ stake in the online
profle. ‘The digital presence often exposes
a variety of turf wars’, noted one executive.
‘Teams from strategy, business development,
branding, marketing, even customer support are
all vying for some control over how the company
is presented via digital media’.
Another challenge relates to appropriate
training. Once guidelines and best
practices have been formulated, the central
communications team still has a vital role to
play as a hub for the training and oversight
of digital advocates.
The selected individuals need to be
suffciently media savvy to understand, in
realtime, how to frame different issues
relative to the company’s overall strategy.
They should only communicate within
their own area of expertise. They also
S
ome companies
have already
started appointing
digital advocates,
particularly to build
community, trust and
understanding around
social technologies in
different parts of the
business.
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need to be prepared to communicate
across a variety of platforms - text, audio
and video. Most importantly, however, they
also need to be trained to follow a specifc
set of guidelines when communicating on
behalf of the company - crucially, to avoid
communications that expose competitive
secrets or prematurely disclose price
sensitive information.
And fnally, the satellite model needs to
allow the communications team the ability
to subject outgoing information, whether
structured or conversational, to a series
of routine checks. The purpose would be
to avoid some of the dangers outlined in
section 3.4. For example, certain keywords
or sensitive topics may be automatically
fagged for review, by the appropriate
executive, subject to the priorities of a
company’s communications strategy at a
given time. Depending on the company’s
enterprise platform, this process of
executive review could become a seamless
part of the realtime publishing process.
3.6 The satellite model must
be driven by realtime media
monitoring
A
vital component to the satellite
model is the realtime monitoring of
external digital media activity. Information
fowing back into the company can be
used to update, refne and extend digital
communications strategies.
Realtime monitoring allows companies
to improve, clarify and tailor their
communications in the gift economies
of the web. Most importantly, realtime
monitoring acts as an early warning radar
for problems and as a source of intelligence
about stakeholders, especially those with
an extensive sphere of digital infuence.
The central team can then funnel relevant
information to the satellite network of
advocates. If they are regularly informed
in this fashion, advocates are more likely
to improve their online contributions and
thereby win the attention of users in their
respective felds.
Social enterprise applications - such
as Chatter from Salesforce or Lotus
Connections from IBM - now incorporate
realtime monitoring features so that
companies can augment their internal
databases with online activity from known
employees and customers. Start-ups such
as Meltwater, Radian6 and Alterian are also
hoping to tap demand for accurate realtime
monitoring. An arms race is developing
around digital media monitoring, as
providers compete on the speed, depth and
accuracy of their software.
43

The next generation of monitoring
tools will feature enhanced features such as
cluster analysis, semantic search, linguistics
and sentiment analysis, as well as new visual
displays.
44
‘The key to adoption is automation’,
emphasised a communications executive.
‘That is, monitoring tools need to be intelligent
enough to extract the relevant data and push
it to the relevant executive in the fastest time
and with the least amount of resources ... before
they go mainstream’.
New entrants, such as Cyveillance and
Teneros Sentry, are even marketing an
integrated realtime surveillance solution
that allows companies to monitor what
employees are publicly saying via social
technologies both at home and at work.
45

Given the infuence of digital advocates
in their respective felds, companies may well
want realtime information about the online
activity of those individuals, day or night.
However, such monitoring is already raising
concerns among civil rights advocates.
They argue that companies have no right to
infringe the privacy of employees outside
working hours. As sociologist Danah Boyd
argued in her keynote at SXSW 2010, even
the aggregation of seemingly public data can
quickly feel like an invasion of privacy.
46

Surprisingly, the vast majority of
companies are relatively undeveloped in
their approach to digital monitoring. In a
recent eConsultancy survey, a surprising 46%
of companies reported that they did not
use any form of monitoring in their digital
communications activities.
47
As one consultant
explained, ‘most companies lack even the
most basic data about their online reputation
and consequently are fying completely blind
in the digital media space’. This is arguably
the ‘Achilles heel’ of reputation management,
argued another consultant.
Companies that develop a realtime
approach to digital media monitoring will
therefore have an important edge over their
competitors. In particular, by monitoring
digital media activity, communicators are able
to collate immense amounts of data about
corporate reputation and the role of different
stakeholders - for example, by identifying
brand champions, infuential journalists and
bloggers, as well as vocal critics.
Although most companies choose
to outsource monitoring, a handful are
building their own internal ‘listening centres’,
typically on the basis of a social enterprise
application. A prominent example is the
Gatorade mission control centre recently
commissioned by PepsiCo, where staff
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can follow conversations around the
brand and evaluate the impact of their
own contributions.
48
It is only through
the detailed analysis of ‘online chatter’,
commented an analyst, ‘that companies can
piece together a live map of their reputation,
the relationship between participants and the
infuence that different individuals and groups
exert over their overall digital [profle]’.
Realtime monitoring is also an essential
prerequisite to a more open, authentic and
personal approach to communications.
According to a consultant: ‘Companies need
the best monitoring if they are to fully understand
crises as they appear - and then make the most
appropriate communications’. Added another
analyst: ‘The mistake made by BP during the
oil spill was ... that their early communications
were too cold, too instrumental and only linked
to conventional press releases. The severity of the
situation needed a more human tone’.
Armed with the latest information,
communicators are in a far better position
to engage with particular stakeholders,
which in turn can foster positive word-of-
mouth and generate higher sales revenues.
‘Releasing information to infuential groups
ahead of time can help to build online support,
which can yield great value during periods of
crisis’, explained a communications executive.
A prominent example is the ‘Vocalpoint’
network, created by Proctor & Gamble to
engage with infuential mothers:
‘Mothers share their experiences using
P&G’s new products with members of their
social circle, typically 20 to 25 moms. In
markets where Vocalpoint infuencers are active,
product revenues have reached twice those
without a Vocalpoint network’
(McKinsey & Co.).
49
R
ealtime monitoring
is also an essential
prerequisite to a more
open, authentic and
personal approach to
communications.
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D
igital media is powering a renaissance
in corporate communications.
The connections afforded by social
technologies, in particular, are allowing
companies to craft messages to a wider
range of audiences with far greater
sophistication. In effect, every company is
now a media company.
By participating in the gift economies
of the web, companies have an opportunity
to connect with new audiences and
thereby incorporate a much wider range
of insights and recommendations into
their operating practices. When harnessed
correctly, digital media has the potential
to add considerable strength to a
companies’ reputation. Important lessons
can also be learned through digital crises.
On balance, the opportunities greatly
outweigh the risks.
Due to the speed and variety of
changes, however, the converged media
landscape is still poorly understood within
the corporate communications sector.
By summarising the principal forces of
change, it is hoped that this report will
help communicators make sense of the
opportunities presented by digital media.
Recognising that corporate reputation
is now shaped by myriad sources,
encompassing both traditional and digital
media, the report recommends that
communicators take into account
the following:
Conclusions
Figure 2 Key recommendations for communicators
The noise created by digital media has increased the value of accurate and reliable content.
With fewer resources available to journalists, there is an opportunity for communications
teams to re-cast themselves as digital publishers, renowned for the quality of their output
in the respective sector. By drawing on the expertise and enthusiasm of employees across
the company, communicators can craft messages that come alive in digital media, whether
it is using video, images, interactive software or blog posts. To do so, communicators will
need to develop new skills in areas such as audio-visual production, social marketing and
online community engagement.
The vitality of a company’s digital reputation is determined by the frequency as well
as the quality of its engagement with digital channels. In particular, it is increasingly
important that communicators maintain an active participation in the myriad gift
economies of the web. The masters of the gift economy model of exchange are those
who can sustain the most clicks, comments and connections. However, the greatest
barrier to effective participation is the executive culture of communications. Senior
management arguably needs to adopt a more authentic, open, curious and humble stance
if the team is to succeed amidst these gift economies.
In every company, the central communications team now functions as a critical interface
between internal activity and external media activity about the company. The viral,
realtime and mobile nature of the web means that organisational boundaries are more
permeable than before, with the result that communicators need to play an especially
active and alert role in managing information fows. In practical terms, this means that
communicators need to lead the development of guidelines for the management of
digital media at an enterprise scale. This report has argued that companies consider
implementing a ‘satellite’ model of digital communications, whereby a network of subject
specialists orbit and report back to the central communications team.
#1
#2
#3
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In short, companies need to devise a
digital communications structure (depicted
in Figure 3 above) that can effectively
process the realtime and recursive fows
of information that now move across and
beyond the company. As noted earlier,
the keystone of this new structure is an
executive culture that is more curious,
humble and collaborative in its approach
to communications. Only then can the
operational components be put in place:
A layer of social enterprise applications
that can record, manage and visualise
the full spectrum of organisational
knowledge, across all business units,
from raw data to the tacit insights,
recommendations and experiences of
employees. Elements of this layer may be
opened to the public to provide a richer,
more interactive view of the company.
Devising a framework of best practices
around which digital communications
can fourish. Coupled to this, companies
will need to implement protocols for the
seamless quality assurance of outbound
messages, notably for sensitive or topical
content, but without restricting the
creative freedom of communicators.
A network of digital advocates with
responsibility for innovating around
social technologies and communicating
on behalf of the company in specifc
areas. Advocates will need to have access
to the latest databases, including reports
about external media activity, if they
are to participate effectively in the gift
economies of the web.



A central communications team that
is responsible for directing rather than
implementing the full spectrum of digital
activity. In particular, the central team will
serve a key role in appointing, training,
coordinating and updating the satellite
network of advocates within a wider
corporate communications strategy.
The changes outlined are best viewed as an
evolutionary extension of communications,
not an outright disruption. In the majority of
cases, companies already have the skills and
experience to harness the opportunities to
digitally enrich their reputations. However,
they will also need to invest in new systems,
training and resources if they are to fully take
advantage of the latest advances in digital
media. Most importantly, opening fully to the
possibilities of digital media will also require
a leap of faith from senior management.
To begin the process of building a digital
communications structure, this report
recommends that communicators consider
the following actions:
Establish a steering committee, with
representation from as wide a range
of business units as possible. The
committee would be responsible for
formulating a blueprint for a digital
communications strategy, tailored to
the company and sector - in particular,
identifying mechanisms to streamline
the internal fow of information to
the central communications team and
evaluating potential applications to
assist with information management and
realtime media monitoring.


Figure 3 Information Flows in the Digital Communications Structure
Knowledge
held in
business
units
Layer of
social
enterprise
applications
Satellite
network of
digital
advocates
Guidelines for outbound
digital communications
News and
comment from
converged media
landscape
Corporate
Communications
Media
monitoring
Corporate
reputation
I
n the majority of
cases, companies
already have the
skills and experience
to harness the
opportunities to
digitally enrich their
reputations.
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Conduct an audit of the existing
communications team to better
understand the resources, skills and
technologies currently available within the
company. This would be followed by an
appraisal of the opportunities presented
and the additional resources, skills and
technologies that need to be nurtured or
acquired. As part of this process, it would
be advisable to forge a closer degree of
connection and co-operation between
the communications and web teams. The
purpose would be to cross-pollinate ideas
between the teams and streamline the
publishing of social content.
• Identify and appoint a satellite network
of digital advocates, who would be
responsible for communicating on
behalf of the company, within designated
subject areas, as well as educating
other employees about best practices
in the use of digital media. In parallel,
communications teams would need to
formulate an underlying set of guidelines
both for advocates and the wider
company. By producing such guidelines in
dialogue with employees, communicators
are more likely to create a sense of
community and shared responsibility
around digital media.

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W
e are grateful to individuals from
the following organisations for
contributing their expert view during the
research. The views presented in the report
are the sole responsibility of the authors
and should not be attributed to any other
individual or organisation.
Altimeter Group (US)
BBC (UK)
Bloomberg (UK)
Economist Group (UK)
Edelman (UK)
Ferrari North America (US)
Financial Times (UK)
Guardian Media (UK)
McKinsey & Co. (US)
Nielsen (US)
NMIncite (US)
Proof Agency (US)
Regester Larkin (UK)
Reputation Institute (UK)
Said Business School (UK)
Sales Force (US)
SAS (US)
Thomson Reuters (UK)
Viasat (UK)
Vodafone (UK)
Zappos (US)





















Acknowledgements
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Endnotes
1 Shirky, C. (2010) Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Penguin (page 14).
2 Quoted by The Economist (2010), Special report on social media (A world of connections, January 30).
3 Shirky, C. (2010)
4 See also Tapscott, D. and Williams, A. (2006) Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes
Everything. Portfolio.
5 http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/08/ff_webrip/all/1
6 http://www.economist.com/node/16941635
7 http://www.roughtype.com/archives/2006/12/sharecropping_t.php
8 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/07/closing-the-digital-frontier/8131/2/
9 http://www.slideshare.net/CMSummit/ms-internet-trends060710fnal
10 http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/the_tls/article5236208.ece
11 http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebook_drives_3x_traffc_to_broadcast_than_googl.php
12 http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2010/apr/12/foursquare-ft
13 http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jun/22/itv-news-social-media-budget-cuts?utm_
source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
14 http://www.nmincite.com/
15 Kavli, L.G. (2010) Social media responses to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. ItsOpen.
16 Currah, A. (2009) What’s happening to our news. Oxford University: Reuters Institute.
17 http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/19/business/media/19press.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&th&emc=th
18 http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/pda/2010/aug/03/forbes-social-media
19 http://www.wan-press.org/article17905.html
20 http://www.niemanlab.org/2010/08/the-newsonomics-of-the-ft-as-an-internet-retailer/
21 http://www.niemanlab.org/2010/05/forbes-new-tool-tracks-advertisers-corporate-reputation/
22 http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/jul/27/fnancialtimes-paywalls
23 http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2009/may/11/real-time-media-government
24 https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Strategy/Strategy_in_Practice/Rebuilding_corporate_
reputations_2367?gp=1
25 http://www.altimetergroup.com/2010/01/webinar-introducing-socialgraphics-a-customer-centric-
approach-to-social-strategy.html
26 http://webershandwick.com/Default.aspx/AboutUs/PressReleases/2010/
WantedBetterConferenceROI--NewStudyShows44PercentofCommunicationsProfessionals
HaveNoProcessforPlacingSeniorExecutivesatConferences
27 Jarvis, J. (2009) What Would Google Do? Harper Business.
28 For example, see Proctor & Gamble’s Vocalpoint network: http://www.vocalpoint.com/
29 For example, see: http://mashable.com/2010/07/22/bearhug
30 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-10895108
31 http://www.businessweek.com/technology/content/aug2010/tc20100813_527916_page_2.htm
32 See http://klout.com and http://www.peerindex.net/
33 Bernoff, J. and Schadler, T. (2010) Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers,
and Transform Your Business. Harvard Business School Press.
34 http://mashable.com/2010/07/06/social-media-collaborative-business/
35 Polanyi, M. (1966) The Tacit Dimension. Doubleday.
36 https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/High_Tech/Strategy_Analysis/Clouds_big_data_and_smart_
assets_Ten_tech-enabled_business_trends_to_watch_2647#Trend1
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28 © Coov·|,|t 20++. |tsCoeo (....|tsooeo.co.o').
37 http://www.forbes.com/2010/07/26/cluster-analysis-predictions-technology-social-media.html
38 http://gigaom.com/2010/08/20/the-future-of-collaboration-brought-to-you-by-twitter/
39 http://rht.mediaroom.com/index.php?s=131&item=790
40 http://www.themoscowtimes.com/business/business_for_business/article/harnessing-the-power-of-
social-networking/410743.html
41 http://www.adweek.com/aw/content_display/community/columns/other-columns/
e3i4fca3f5255bc0136206bf8eed606fe86
42 http://hbr.org/2010/07/empowered/ar/1
43 http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-11450923
44 http://mashable.com/2010/08/20/social-media-monitoring-tools-smarter
45 http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/social_sentry_track_employees_across_the_web.php
46 http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/danah_boyd_talks_about_privacy_at_sxsw.php
47 http://econsultancy.com/reports/social-media-and-online-pr-report
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30 © Coov·|,|t 20++. |tsCoeo (....|tsooeo.co.o').
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