Many companies are struggling to decide on the best ways to engage with social media. The November edition of Harvard Business Review, which I have referred to before, has some suggestions.
The mandate for a company’s Social Media team should, the authors argue, cover the development of a social media policy: to include accountability; accuracy and transparency and lawfulness. It should include monitoring online communities: leveraging tools and mobilising internal team members to source information. The team’s role should also be to engage with online communities; creating a compelling social media voice; and reaching out to community leaders.
The authors say that a company’s social media team should act as first responders as some issues require immediate action. The team should acknowledge mistakes on behalf of the company, ward off crises by not allowing unfounded rumours to spiral out of control, and engage selectively.
It is proving difficult for companies to formulate teams, although organisations like Dell have done this successfully by having community managers who watch, listen and act on behalf of the organisation. Another useful model here is video gaming, where you have community managers watching how new product launches are playing out online and reporting any crucial insights back to their senior managers.
As a social media strategy consultancy ItsOpen (itsopen.co.uk) does work with companies helping, supporting and advising them in these areas. However when it comes to actual engagement, there is no substitute for companies talking directly to people themselves through online communities. It is more authentic and carries more weight.
Through the SocialMediaLeadershipForum (www.socialmedialeadershipforum.org) we are looking to tackle these issues. The world of communications is changing fast; many companies are realising that they could be left behind – and be at a severe competitive disadvantage – if they don’t develop coherent social media policies and strategies for positively nurturing online communities and mitigating the potential negative consequences of social media.
It is also worth reiterating that a strategy involves identifying the most appropriate social media tools to leverage to reach relevant online communities. But it is crucial to listen to those online communities, seeing what they like and dislike, and what they prefer to read and watch. Simply pushing out content you think they might like could be the equivalent of cold calling someone with an irrelevant proposition which does not match what they are interested in. For a social media strategy to be truly effective, a company needs to spend time educating itself about the culture of social media communications: how stakeholders are using these tools and what constitutes best practice.
The easy accessibility of social media sites/networks does not mean that communicating effectively and successfully through social media is easy for a company. Which is why only a few companies currently standout. These are the ones who have researched this new field and thought carefully about how best to engage.
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