Monday 8 June 2015

Corporate Communications: The double-edged sword of Social Media

There’s a big reason why corporations should be monitoring social media. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the increasing number of retail investors using social media to discuss and research their trades. The fact that the average investor can now easily access and share information about a stock means companies need to be aware of what is happening. Unlike the chatrooms often used by retail investors, social media reaches a much wider and mainstream audience.

Social media has undoubtedly changed the way the world communicates. So why are many corporations ignoring or misusing what is arguably the most influential means of communication in the twenty-first century?

The corporate communications industry has arguably been slow to embrace social media. Perhaps that’s because this channel of communication is not taken seriously enough – it’s often still associated with embarrassing Facebook profiles. But social media has evolved in the last decade to the point where a lack of social media strategy is not only a missed opportunity – it’s risky and perhaps even irresponsible.

Consider the many benefits of having a corporate social media presence. Social media can be used to respond swiftly, and very publicly, to an unforeseen crisis. The recent example of the GermanWings crash demonstrates this: The Company was able to immediately respond to media reports that one of its planes had lost contact, and they continued to use Twitter to update the public as soon as the information became available.

This points to perhaps one of the greatest benefits of social media for corporate communications: Control. Social media can and should be used to get the message you want out to a wider audience without an intermediary such as a journalist. Newsfeeds and blogs offer the opportunity to create, and control content on what a corporation is doing, how it does it and who is doing it. It increases transparency and is helpful for everyone – clients, investors, potential investors and the media.

Social media’s widespread reach is also why this channel of communication is a double-edged sword. Just ask the investment bank JP Morgan Chase, who once invited the public to “Tweet a Q using #AskJPM.” It was meant to give career advice but ended up going viral, with twitter users asking questions such as, “Did you have a specific number of people’s lives you needed to ruin before you considered your business model a success?” and “What section of the poor & disenfranchised have you yet to exploit for profit, & how are you working to address that?”

In the post-credit crunch era, it should have been obvious that this Twitter campaign was a bad idea. But that doesn’t mean JP Morgan should have avoided social media entirely. Social media is also a useful way to measure sentiment. This process of identifying and assessing what is being said about a corporation or brand is known as social media listening. Had JP Morgan done this first, it would have been able to predict the results of #AskJPM.

Simply put, a corporate communications strategy can’t ignore social media but also has to be very careful when it comes to execution. It gets down to the heart of the purpose of PR: Enhancing and protecting reputations. And in the digital era, it’s pretty obvious this can’t be done without a well thought out social media strategy.

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