It’s A Great Time To Communicate

Over the past few days, I have spoken with quite a few communicators about B2W. There seems to be some fear attached to online media — fear of losing control of the message, fear of not being able to manage the brand, fear that others (public, stakeholders, consumers, customers…people) now have the balance of power. It is a natural and normal fear for communicators. However, let me tell you — it has never been a better time to be in this profession or to communicate.

Great communications or PR has never been about “spin” or about slanting the truth to suit an organization’s needs…it has always been about being authentic, being open and honest and about connecting. About, first and foremost, doing the right thing and then, if appropriate, being seen as doing the right thing.

With social media, being authentic and transparent are at the foundation of it all. Doing and being seen are one and the same. Don’t get me wrong – brand, positioning, messaging – it is all still very important, but it has become collaborative. We don’t “tell” people what our organization is all about anymore, we share it with them and listen for their feedback, input and response. Or, in some cases, they share what they think first – letting us in on some incredible things that we might not have even known were being talked about.

The fact is, we have never really been in control of the message. People talked about things all the time, but in smaller groups at home, at the water cooler, at the coffee shop, in the pub, on the bus … it happened. And they had their own opinions and ideas and experiences of your organization. They had their own perception of your brand. Now, it’s online 24/7 and accessible by more people. And that’s where the opportunity lies.

Today – if someone has something good or bad to say about your organization, you have the opportunity to reach out and start a conversation that is open and transparent – and authentic. We know that people, organizations and (my goodness!) even politicians are going to make mistakes. That’s what happens with human beings…we just want to know that you acknowledge it and are accountable. With social media, you have that opportunity to reach out immediately and start a conversation with us. Make it right and chances are, we will forgive you. Ignore it, hide it or try to “spin” it – and it will come back and bite you.

For people like us, this is the era we have all been waiting for (whether you knew it or not!). With an approach based in authenticity and integrity, there are huge opportunities to connect with stakeholders, with each other, with individuals and groups that are finding each other online and reaching out in the “real” world.  Technology has brought us opportunity – and with that some challenges. But once you get past the fear of the unknown (and that really is all it is), you will see how much can be accomplished by reaching out this way.

It is a great time to communicate.

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  1. Bryan M.

    It’s a rosy ideal: that we’re now on the cusp of a whole new archetype of corporate communications based on fairness and legitimacy, “authenticity”, and “collaborative” brand messaging. I think most marketers who are discovering social networking feel an initial sense of liberation and optimism; that there can be a new world of “truth” in what has a been a pretty seamy career of shilling for the corporate man.

    It ain’t so. Social Media cannot be successfully adopted as a mainstream business practice. Truth can be valuable in customer relations, but to think persuasion and bias can be replaced by comprehensive transparency and integrity, rubs against a couple thousand years of business. Innate to the buyer/seller relationship is the art of convincing, “spin”, salesmanship—whatever you want to call it, but recognize that companies sell. To sell, marketers do what they have to within the confines of the law (and sometimes not) to sell.

    Outmoded thinking, you say? What if a cell phone company really engaged in a dialogue on the effects of RF on the brain—a topic that consumers have tried to debate since the late 80’s. “Yes, you’re right, holding a 1.5 watt transmitter against your brain for an hour a day will absolutely give you cancer—but we’re working on a solution for that…” Or if a meat packing company had to engage with consumers in a discussion about the level of bacteria in their plants that… wait, never mind. It will probably work out fine.

    A few flaws I see in trying to force-fit the square peg of social media into the round hole of business are:

    1.There is no legitimacy. I can pretend to be a customer of my competitor and walk all over his face on the Web. Or, I can hire one of those not-so-reputable PR firms that are sprouting up to have everyone in their office pretend to be disgruntled customers of my competitor. And while my competitor is busy having an “open and transparent” dialogue defending their position with these disgruntled ‘customers’, I can go back to the business of shaping public opinion of my products.

    2.It’s too fragmented. You can’t swing a dead URL these days without hitting another customer opinion site. Enough! I’m tired of reading what the same 8 people have to say about everything under the sun on a hundred Websites because they don’t know what to do with their time.

    3.What happened to the powerful sneezers? To put stock in an opinion, you need to contextualize the voices, and that is tough to do. It takes time to understand all these points of view and who the heck has time to figure out who’s really authentic? After the novelty of all this “honest dialogue” wears off, you basically want to tell the hotel chain that their carpet stinks, the tub had hair in it, and the bellhop was creepy—and move on with your day.

    4.If it’s only 8 people writing (and I’m convinced they’re all marketers, or freelance writers, or kooks), there are only a couple people reading. The reach and frequency of social media is HIGHLY over-rated. Look at how many people have commented on your blog since the first the first posting back in May. eMarketer has been pumping out research for months now, showing social media is on the wane.

    So: I love your enthusiasm, and I have no doubt you’ll find interesting applications of social media to benefit companies and their customers. But let’s keep it real. (I’d sign my full name but privacy is a big deal for most people when posting opinions.)

  2. B2W

    It is a great day to be a communicator and a blogger. While normally we wouldn’t publish what is, in effect, an anonymous post…we thought that this specific post is a good example of putting social media to work. It opens each of us up to new perspectives and lets a discussion begin.

    It seems to me that Bryan M. sees the world from the old paradigm — where organizations and consumers are pitted against each other rather than discovering new ways to work in collaboration. The old paradigm is where marketers talk “at” instead of “with.”

    Social media isn’t a magic pill that will make everything perfect. It is an opportunity, a way to start or to continue to reach out and to engage in a two-way conversation with your stakeholders.

    Each day, there are more and more examples of organizations using social media as an important part of their business practices. Sure, there are challenges with social media, but in my experience — if an organization has tried to “fool” people with fake bloggers or vodcasts … they get called out pretty quickly by the very same people they are trying to trick. It’s a new world and whether organizations choose to be a part of social media or not — millions of people have jumped into the pool.

    In Bryan M.’s post, there appears to be a great deal of fear. Fear that a competitor will post negatively on your blog, fear that unscrupulous PR people will get online and create chaos and havoc out of mistruths and lies. We are not so naïve to think that this could not happen, but there are ways to manage these kinds of false attacks and the online community is very good at coming to support organizations and individuals who are unfairly attacked. There are people with integrity online and there are people without it. Just like the real world. And yes, it could happen that your competitor tries to fake you out online, but there are checks and balances and opportunities to stop that kind of unethical attack in its tracks. More and more we are seeing online that this negative approach to doing business does more harm to the attacker if handled properly.

    There are millions of bloggers and blog readers out there, YouTube, MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Picassa and other interactive, online media sites are bringing millions of people together on a daily basis. They may not all blog or even post, but they read and they listen and they think …And I believe that we will see more people coming online in the near future that will put their opinions forward, that we will see more posts on this and other blogs and individuals will become more comfortable and accustomed to this new way of doing business. The world is changing, how people want to deal with organizations is changing and social media is a part of this change.

    This is a relatively new blog – it’s been up since May, as we prepared for our August 26 launch, but we didn’t reach out and tell people about it until just last week. Brian M is right, there aren’t a great many responses here yet. Our launch was a week ago and we’ve seen a strong response to it and I believe we will see some interesting and thought provoking posts here in the near future. There are a great many people who do see social media as an innovative and practical opportunity to engage and extend their communities. Those are the people that will make positive change in the world. Those are the people that want to reach out and authentically connect with their stakeholders…and I think that social media will help them achieve that.

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