‘Social media – we know it’s going on but we’re not in control’. That – according to communication strategy consultant Martin Hill-Wilson – is a typical response from businesses to today’s social media phenomenon. Hill-Wilson was speaking at one of a series of seminars on communications and customer strategy organised by the management consultancy CCL (http://www.customerconsulting.com) and held in London at the end of March.
His view is that ‘social media’ stops communities getting trapped in ‘silos’ and only works because of cloud computing. And, in social media as with other forms of communication, listening is at least as important as talking.
“Social media has introduced new patterns of behaviour – especially commercial behaviour,” he said, “and social media-influenced commerce is dynamically linked to what you and your friends have liked. All of this is causing businesses some concerns – not least because, traditionally, business has been done in secret. Using social media is much more transparent and is more likely to ‘reveal all’.”
Hill-Wilson sees the rewards of social media engagement as:
- It can build engagement and trust (although it does the opposite of this if you’re not responsive)
- It provides accelerated learning opportunities
- Small can look big and big can look small
- It globalises brands cheaply
- Social media and cloud computing offer ubiquitous access, enlarging markets
The risks, he defines as:
- It exposes opaque (ie not transparent) behaviour
- The viral carries both bad and good news
- It stresses existing organisational norms
- It puts brands that don’t ‘get’ social media onto a dangerous downward spiral
Hill-Wilson suggested that there are three approaches to an organisational social media policy:
- Organic – a non-coordinated approach (eg Sun)
- Centralised – one department controls all social media efforts (eg Ford)
- Coordinated – one hub sets the rules, outlines best practices and policies, leaving individual departments to operate within these parameters (eg HP)
“There are a number of organisations’ social media policy documents online, so you can easily get a pre-developed structure for your own organisation’s policy,” he said. “One of the key aspects of this is that you must let your employees know that you’re listening to them via social media – and to let them know that ‘just because they can doesn’t mean that they should’.
“From an organisation’s point of view, social media is about feedback loops and using cross-functional teams to resolve issues,” he said. “And you also need to know when ‘enough is enough’ in terms of a response.”
Hill-Wilson’s advice to organisations wanting to take full advantage of social media is to:
- Use social media consistently within functions
- Unify tools and tactics (bring together those around your organisation who ‘do’ social media to work out a strategy for everyone)
- Plan ahead for the next iteration of social media
Comment: Thanks to the advent – and continued development – of social media, we might be at the beginning of a new era in doing business, where transparency and honesty rather than secrecy and duplicity are the guiding principles. It all sounds a bit ‘religious’ – like a prophetic view of a new utopian, golden age. Such sentiments are not new: look at the gospel of Luke chapter 12 verses one to three, for example. Yet, finally, social media seems to have given us the ability to make a difference in this regard and to make those who dismiss its power appear as Canute-like cynics.