Why it's time for Business to Get Social
I attended a great presentation recently by a guy called John Fryer. Now, you may not have heard of John but the chances are that you have heard of many of the people that will know John personally. You see, John is a Media Guru – after a lifetime working at the forefront of media with the likes of the Sunday Times, the BBC and as the FSA’s PR front man, John now channels his expertise into guiding Blue Chip CEOs on how they should handle the media.
His IOD hosted presentation was on this very subject – how organisations can get the most from the media. As you would expect, John guided us on what organisations should and shouldn’t do when faced with a potential PR disaster and he gave us a lot of insight into the nature of the beast that we recognise as the news media. But what struck me most about John’s presentation was not the do’s and don’ts (as valuable as they were) but his views on the changing world within which businesses now operate.
For me, John really pressed home on the incredible change that Social Media is imposing on business. Whether we like it or not, social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook have created a new environment for businesses where publicity, either good or bad, is now, more than it ever was, in the hands of individuals. An environment where reputations, that have taken years to establish, can be blown apart in a matter of hours. Our ability to control what people say about us has significantly diminished in the past couple of years simply because it is so much easier to broadcast our displeasure when we don’t like something. If this is then interesting enough or enough people have the same experience then we have a problem.
This is being very adequately demonstrated by the reaction we are seeing across the world to the current financial crisis. Bankers, right or wrongly, are being blamed for the mess our global finances are in. They are also being accused of having too much power, too much of the wealth and too little interest in contributing back to society. On whatever side your political persuasions may lean you can’t fail to recognise that there is now a significant movement that has manifested out of pretty much nowhere in a very short period. And this movement has the power to influence the political agenda – to change the way our governments act.
This ability to rise up in unison across the globe is significantly enabled by the new social media technologies and their inherent ability to create a common purpose amongst the masses.
So, if you’re not a banker and you don’t consider your business large enough or controversial enough to draw the attention of the twittering classes, then why should you worry?
And just what is my interest in sharing this with you – After all I’m HR not PR.
Well, to answer the first question, you need to worry because you still have a reputation to protect. And the reason I’m sharing this with you is because the strongest defenders and most likely detractors of your reputation are your own people – the people who represent your business every day.
Let me put this to you: if the people who work for you don’t feel good about what they do or how they’re treated then how do you think they are going to unburden themselves of all that negativity. That’s right, they’ll tell someone.
A few years back we didn’t need to worry too much about this. If they went home and starting bitching to their best mate or their partner then chances are they would run out of steam, eventually. But now everyone is connected. Practically every one of us. And if we strike a common chord with someone else (and we’re more likely to, being connected) then the noise will get louder. If this is happening on Twitter or Facebook and your company is in the frame then you might be (possibly correctly) thinking disciplinary but the damage has already been done. The horse has bolted.
With the advent of social media you now have to see protecting your reputation as something that is baked into how you do business. You may have thought you had this already covered but if you haven’t factored the potential damage that social media could do to your business then you need to be thinking about it now.
So what you can you do to protect your company?
You could start by undertaking a risk assessment of your reputation. Find out where your company practices could be leaving you exposed to potential ‘reputational damage’. And do what you can to enhance it. Put real respect at the heart of how you treat your people (I’m sure you do already) and think a little about what your company gives back to the community around it.
On the upside – and there is a big upside – social media presents all of us with new ways to reach new customers. Opportunities to spread the great benefits we bring to our clients. As with the advent of the internet a few years before, I firmly believe that it will soon be considered a folly for a company not to have a social media marketing channel of some sort. You could try but I fear you will be consigning your enterprise to the history books.
These are my top tips for employers to embrace the social media revolution:
- Understand the world of opportunity that social media represents: it's not just about marketing as it is also a great learning environment and a place where communities valuable to your organisation flourish
- Build simple guidelines for how you want your employees to use social media. Remember we are moving away from strict control towards embracing but with trust comes responsibility and your employees should be reminded that they are also your brand ambassadors
- Think about training for your employees to help them understand the opportunities and how to get the most out of social media for your organisation
- Don't set your Social Media direction in stone. The technologies will rapidly evolve and it makes sense to keep your finger on the pulse
- On a broader scale think about Employee Engagement - having an engaged workforce has a proven impact on your employees role as brand ambassadors, the care they have for your customers' experiences and the innovation that comes from a creative and energised culture.
My message is that your organisation will be far better off embracing the new ways – certainly not resisting them. This is not a fad – social media is already redrawing maps so we have to get on-board… and online.
As stated in a recent tweet by Laurie Ruettimann, a very well connected and highly respected (and, just in case she's reading, very witty) HR Twitterati, “There is no plan B to social media. Social conversations are here to stay. Trust beats control.”