If there is one thing I’ve learned from social media and the new media landscape it is that I no longer have complete control over my organization’s message. Control has been snatched from our public relations and brand- building prowess by Facebook Twitter YouTube and other social media (Case in point: the “United Breaks Guitars”” hit song on YouTube). CEOs and PR professionals must embrace this new paradigm and strategize how to best use these channels to build relationships with customers and create awareness of products or services.
Don’t feed the trolls: Learning to let go is hard. This means that we have to monitor social media channels and read some negative chatter about our organization. Not only must we read the chatter we must internalize what is being said and respond by trying to improve our processes or at the very least explain why we can’t change quickly or in some cases can’t change at all.
This leads me to rule number one: if a comment is negative but at its core is valid and helps the organization to move forward then listen and respond with a “”Thank you and we are working to improve.”” If the comment is negative with no value other than to blast the organization then you are dealing with a troll. Do not feed trolls. Trolls grow if you respond to them because responses are akin to food and provide the troll with more energy and power. Trolls love to rage and so they will never move out from under the bridge and into the sunlight but you can keep them at bay with a quiet non-response.
Embrace your advocates. If your brand is strong enough and your experience or service connects you with your customers you will also grow advocates. Advocates want to share their own positive experiences with your organization and others. This kind of authenticity is something that you cannot manufacture through an advertisement or a media release. It is the real experience of a real person posted in the virtual world and as strange as it sounds this has high impact.
I’ll give you an example of an advocate I discovered. University of Guam student Anton Richard Ngata created a video of the university’s Charter Day in March and posted it on YouTube. I viewed the four-minute piece and was impressed with the production values creativity and brand-building value. I immediately posted a link to YouTube on the front page of the UOG Web site and as of Oct. 29 this video has 3 911 views. We only have 3 600 students. I now have this link posted on our prospective students’ web page so that visitors can still view it. This didn’t cost me a dime but has incredible lasting value as a recruitment tool. Anton Richard is an UOG advocate because he wanted to produce a video and chose Charter Day. I have now hired him on contract to do some video work for me! Treat your advocates well and they will quickly outnumber and squelch any troll that may snarl at you.
I don’t need friends but my organization does. On a personal level I fall into the demographic of folks who will never send out a tweet about how I just finished my coffee. I rarely visit my personal Facebook page because I realized I already have friends and I don’t want virtual ones – plus people were sending me Farmville stuff and it drove me nuts. It’s likely that many of the readers of this publication fall into the same category. This presents a nice segue into lesson number two: do not let your personal opinion/usage of social media color your professional strategy regarding how you can use it to communicate your message and expand your brand.
Take for example the 83 million outbound Chinese tourists by 2014 and the fact that there are more people in China connected to the Internet than there are people living in the United States. Add this data to the trend that shows Oceania is the fastest growing region for Chinese outbound tourists. How do you think these Chinese tourists are going to find out about your organization? You already know the answer: the Web. Invest now in some Web pages in Mandarin that showcase your organization. Add some authenticity to those Web pages by allowing some advocates to speak for you.
Social media is a first-tier communication channel. From my experience Facebook and phones are first tier communication tools for students at the University of Guam with Web sites and e-mail second and third tier. I established a Triton Facebook page and sent a couple of students out to make friends. To my delight I discovered student club events that were happening on campus that I did not know about previously. When I interacted with the students on Facebook they sent me their information and visuals which I then posted on the university Web site. Our Web site generates visits from about 60 000 unique computers a month and it is a second tier communication channel. That was a wakeup call for me. Maybe I personally don’t need friends but Triton does. Triton’s friends now invite Triton to their events. Triton feels loved.
Lesson number three: the millennial generation spends a couple of hours a day on Facebook. This is how they communicate. If you have a message you want to get out to this market then you need to become a Facebookie. But you must have information that they want to see and you must be authentic.
A recent study indicated that Facebook has the potential to reach 62% of Americans. Sit down with others in your organization and figure out how to align your social media strategy with your key performance indicators and overall company strategy to help you determine what you want to communicate. Establish some benchmarks and figure out how you will measure your success. Use social media as well as your traditional marketing channels and then launch the plan off paper and into an engaged community.
I will leave you to ponder over the following data: It took radio 38 years to reach 50 million listeners; television took 13 years to achieve the same reach. It took Facebook just five years to reach 50 million users (“”Did You Know?”” 2008 – Compiled by Fisch/McLeod/Brenman). Social media is not going away and sooner or later your organization will have to learn how to let go. That is when the real communication begins.
– Cathleen Moore-Linn MFA is the director of integrated communication at the University of Guam and is a 20-year public relations veteran.