Social Media – Communications – Marketing

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Communicating in the age of mistrust

Perhaps the fact that organizations like Edleman’s looks at and measures trust is only a small indication of a bigger issue – people no longer trust.

In the age of social media there are many ways for people to unite over a cause and to share information – right or wrong.  Chances are however, that if you or I tell a friend something that we have learned, they will believe you or me before they will believe the corporate world, politicians or big industry in general.

In listening to the many commentaries today on the anniversary of 9/11 it is clear that people have many theories as to what happened that day and afterwards.  Knowing who to believe however comes down to who we trust.  In my opinion, social media has played a big role in our evolution of disbelief.  For those of who communicate or execute marketing strategies for a living, this is a tremendous challenge.  We have to build trust with our stakeholders, communities and customers.

Building trust however is difficult when you learn about companies that hire people to spread positive word of mouth messages on social networking sites.  The term wombagging has evolved out of this very practice.  According to Basil Phillips although there are a number of wombagging methods, most of them involve some degree of dishonesty.

As someone who has been in the communications and marketing industry for nearly 20 years, the challenge to build and maintain trust is more of a challenge than ever.  Having an authentic voice without spin may be the goal, but even when this is executed to perfection, there will be those that refuse to trust and refuse to believe.  What impact will they have on the rest of your audience?

Social Media Expert? I think Not!

Over that last little while there has been somewhat of a debate that has emerged.  The debate centers around people who call themselves Social Media (SM) experts.  Just over the last 24 hours, a very detailed discussion has been taking place on Social Media Marketing on LinkedIn.  This is a fascinating group with great discussions.  I encourage you to check it out.

In the end, I don’t believe that there are SM experts!  This is to new a game and everyone is playing it differently.  Because Starbucks and Best Buy were successful doing it “their” way, does not mean that you and your organization should follow the same path.

Let’s remember what the purpose of SM is – it is about building relationships.  You have to be genuine and build relationships your way.  To do so the same way that another organization has will be proof positive that you are not genuine.

So, please remember to think about how you want to build relationships and what steps you would like to take to do it “your way.”

Trust…From the Employer Perspective

Being able to trust, or not trust, is not just an issue for the employee or the consumer.  We know for a fact that as employers we have a few trust issues ourselves!

In fact, there is a fair amount of research to demonstrate that like employees, employers fall short in this area. According to Charlie Taylor and a study conducted in 2008 where 1,390 employers were surveyed, 83% of employers confirmed that they checked Facebook to see if an employee was really sick.  This same survey revealed that 67% of employers disciplined employees as a result of what they saw on Facebook.

The question is, just how many employers even allow their employees to use social networking sites?  According to Adam Ostrow and a survey of 1,400 Chief Information Officers with 100 employees or more, 54% of employers completely block access to social networking sites. I would argue that this is not very progressive thinking.

I would challenge employers to think differently about Social Media and social networking sites.  For those that think that employees will waste time or release confidential information, I hate to break it to you, but they don’t need social networking for that.  These employees will have already figured out a way to do this!

So, instead let’s take the positive approach and realize that:
1) Social Media is not a fad.  It is however, a fundamental shift in the way that we communicate.
2) As more people become mobile communicators, we need adjust the way we communicate.
3) A whole new generation is coming into the workforce using Social Media for communication.  Are you just going to ignore these employees?  You are if you aren’t employing Social Media.
4) Establish guidelines to help employees understand the do’s and don’ts of using Social Media.
5) Realize the tremendous potential for collaborating and sharing information.
6)  You need to take a leadership role!

In my next posting, I will cover some additional information about trust, or the lack of trust.

Two-way dialogue, the New Paradigm

Let me start off by saying that I truly believe that this is the first time in history when there really is the possibility of having a two-way dialogue.  On the one hand, technology has developed to the point where we actually have tools that enable not just word-of-mouth, but world-of-mouth.  On the other hand, we seem to be in an age when people want to speak out and they want to be engaged.

You may have heard this term – world-of-mouth – being used more and more in reference to Social Media.  When you stop and think about what these words mean, they really do have a big impact.  In a previous posting I mentioned the letter to the editor.  Sure, that was an interesting tool and you could potentially have hundreds or even thousands reading your letter on the day that it was published in the paper.  With Social Media however, your “letter” can be forwarded, re-posted, and more importantly other people can comment in real-time and a conversation can emerge.  Rather than a one-time event, depending on the topic, the interest and even the passion of people, this “letter” could become a cause that thousands support.

To emphasis my point, let’s take a real life case.  Back in August of this year (2010) Tanner Bawn, a 10 year old from Vancouver, who has muscular dystrophy and is immobile without his electric wheelchair, travelled to New York with his aunt.  According to an August 5, 2010, Globe and Mail post, when Tanner and his companions arrived in New York, his wheelchair was damaged beyond repair.  This trip was part of a wish request that the terminally ill boy made.  Unfortunately Air Canada was not immediately forthcoming to replace the chair.  In fact, according to the article, it was going to take several days before they could get a loaner.  For Tanner’s aunt, this was unacceptable.  She knew in order to get results, she would have to take action.  She went to Twitter and told her story.  A quick Google search for the terms “Air Canada” and “Twitter” and “wheelchair” bring up 112,000 results and if you read the various articles and postings, there are numerous comments within each.  This was a public relations nightmare for the airline.  Not only did traditional media pick this story up, but it went viral in the Social Media world.  (For those not familiar with the term viral, think of how a cold spreads when just one individual coughs in public – it isviral.)

If this were five years ago, or even 10 would this have occurred? In all honestly, likely not. We didn’t have the tools and perhaps not the wherewithal either. This is just one example where world-of-mouth occurred and forced an action to take place. Again, this information lives on. Unlike the old letter to the editor, in this new world of marketing and communications, opinions, posts and public relations nightmares live on and on in the digital world. Case in point, one Google search today brought me the full picture of what happened to Tanner almost two months ago in just .19 seconds.
Just think about what world-of-mouth can do to your business, your charity event, or quite frankly to your personal brand when you act or react to each and every event in your day!

In my next posting I will continue to talk about the impact of Social Media and world-of-mouth. In particular, I will review what research is telling us about trust.

Delving into Social Media?

Thinking about your company taking the plunge and getting to Social Media? Are you wondering where to start and which tools should you use? Do you have questions about whether or not you can trust your employees?

You can take solace in the fact that you are not alone. Many communications and marketing professionals ask these questions every day.

Through this blog I will share with you some of the experiences that I have had over the course of my marketing and communications career and also some new experiences that I encounter.

My next posting will look first at traditional marketing and communications and the impact that they have had.