Clearly the corporate committee from this Tom Fishburne cartoon does not yet understand the use or usefulness of Twitter. Their debate about a single corporate tweet exemplifies why many organizations have been struggling with social media.
Camel – a Horse Made by a Committee
Communications committee members discuss typical governance policies in many companies. Traditional media is predominately one-to-many and outbound. This includes press releases, advertising, product literature and web sites. They speak at rather than with people.
Because staff are often not in response mode, there is more time for redundant reviews before a piece is published. Often committee compromises are made that are in the best interest of avoiding risk, not delivering responses to emerging questions. That is why social media is more similar to public relations and customer services than traditional advertising and marketing groups.
Of course, corporate communications strategies also seek to engage with customers, prospects and influencers. But the new nature of social media often requires a change in the way corporate policies treat these dialogs in terms of content and speed. Social media and web-based conversations are many-to-many conversations instead of one-to-many. People talk with other people – about you.
Customers, prospects and influencers have always talked to each other about your brand. But social media allow those conversations to circulate worldwide within moments. This has traditional corporate communicators feeling that they are no longer in charge of their brand image. I would argue that they never were.
Social Media is New – Is It?
Many organizations are not used to having conversations and they choose to engage (or not engage) in online conversations with typical corporate speak from an anonymous voice. Unfortunately, most of the time your customers want to speak to a human and not a corporation. They can tell when they get a canned response, when you are not prepared and when you are not genuine.
Not responding or engaging in social media conversations is much worse than engaging and making a few mistakes along the way. If a brand doesn’t respond to questions or correct inaccuracies, outsiders only see a blank screen. This silence demonstrates lack of concern and respect for customers.
Surveys have indicated that 40% of organizations ignore email messages sent to public email addresses. When individuals are ignored often no one else knows but them. When those messages occur on public social media platforms, however, everyone can see the failure to respond. Many communications professionals now understand the importance of a strong monitoring process to make sure staff are aware of conversations anywhere on the web. The next step is a plan on how to respond.
Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail
In terms of corporate governance, policies and procedures, there are a few things you can do in your planning process. First is to ensure that social media channels are a core part of the Strategic Marketing, Public Relations and Corporate Communications plans. The plans should include tactics for initiating conversations on all outbound channels. Outbound communications should include a call to action that are easy for customers to respond to and are measurable.
Outbound communications plans can include an Editorial Calendar of topics and conversation starters around natural industry events and cycles. These topics can generate content for all media types, both offline and online. Remember to include space for unplanned topics as well. Natural conversations are fluid, are not scripted, and can go in unexpected directions. But having note cards with talking points is a way to create cohesiveness and consistency for all participants.
Not planning a strategy for inbound conversations is a plan for failure. There are many lessons learned from call centers and customer service operations. Conversation scripts can be used to help form a consistent corporate response and then create channels for question resolution in a timely manner. But timeliness is key.
There are many resources available to help you craft your own policies and plans. A good place to start is SocialMediaGovernance.com for many real examples. However you craft it, for any plan to succeed in this hyper-connected world, it will need to include a calendar of topics to initiate dialog (planned) and giving staff the freedom to talk interactively (unplanned), and to make the rights points (scripts) in response.
In planning a social media (or just call it media!) communications plan, it should include the following objectives:
- Promote Channels – how do people find you and engage you?
- Sharing Messages – how do you enable and encourage sharing your content by others?
- Conversation Engagement – who in your organization is ready to question and answer?
- Encourage Behavior – what polls, surveys and contents will others respond to?
- Monitor, Measure, Manage – establish business results metrics, not how many followers you have.
Depending on how you organize functions, these policies may cover expectations for one group, or many. Feel free to research best practices and reevaluate often. Peoples’ behavior changes every day. Governance policies are a good way to communicate internally how these changing landscapes can become a corporate asset. But not changing is not an option, and having committees designing responses will only yield failure.