Only a complete Luddite would fail to realise that social media should now form an integral part of corporate communications. Print and online are almost seamlessly synchronised, offering sharable content that people can engage in. It offers a series of brand outlets where a company can enhance and complement its communications.
The social media industry itself is booming, growing more established and finding ways to generate revenue and deliver profit. In their start up phases, Facebook and Twitter were viewed as techy outsiders but after astonishing growth now stand tall with some of the biggest businesses in the world. Furthermore, Twitter’s eagerly anticipated $1bn IPO is giving us new insight into its business model, showing huge room for growth.
With the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission approving Facebook and Twitter for company disclosures earlier this year, it’s evident that social media it is being taken seriously as a communication channel and can no longer be deemed a ‘fad’. Indeed it’s recognised now that without participating, a company is fundamentally less transparent.
Despite all of this, so many companies are still reluctant to join the party, or are just popping in for a brief chat, then hiding away again (while everyone else keeps talking about them – potentially leading to all sorts of mistruths).
Understandably, there is often cultural resistance, as like all media relations, it carries a certain amount of risk and requires a decent amount of investment in time. This is often a sticking point, as assessing ROI on social media engagement is vague and imprecise. However, the industry is still wrangling with how best to demonstrate ROI for print copy, so it’s safe to say the evolving world of online will be very tricky to put a value on. Nevertheless, share-of-voice, sentiment and volume can all form a part of the analysis mix, giving a pretty good snap-shot of the impact of a company’s social media engagement.
For larger companies, compliance can seriously hinder the engagement process. It doesn’t work to get every Tweet signed off, but it is also important to have them involved in social media to ensure that the information shared is correct and not commercially sensitive – Twitter does and has moved markets; billionaire investor Carl Icahn’s comments on Apple being a prime example.
Agreeing with compliance a clear list of guidelines from the outset can ensure that timeliness is maintained and sharing segments from other signed off material like press releases can also provide an easy solution. Even for smaller companies without the same compliance restraints, establishing rules of engagement is crucial in this public environment. Guidelines for staff are also vital in managing risk, but be careful not to be overly controlling.
Also prepare for hacking and even staff hijacking (HMV’s shocking experience is a case in point)! It happens, but can be quickly resolved. Discuss it with your IT team and develop a security plan, and if it does happen make people aware through other social media channels and report it to your followers once it’s resolved.
Once involved in the social sphere, it’s like all media communications – it’s all about content. It needs to be shared regularly (as much as you can manage) and consistently. View it as a secondary website or additional newsroom that people following your company will return to – so it needs to be up to date! When it comes to the content itself, think: what do you want to be known for? Do you need different Twitter accounts / outlets for different parts of the business? Is it for just corporate news or opinion? The output should be straight forward and should not confuse – it’s a simple communication channel that is there to support other output.
Effective social media use needs commitment and to be taken seriously, with a strategy and plan in place, but it doesn’t need to be a huge strain if it is fully integrated with other communications work. It’s here to stay and it’s time to take advantage!