Controlling the message has been one of the main objectives of most marketers and PR practitioners. We aim to ensure that everything is communicated in a manner that accurately reflects a brand or a product, so we have become accustomed to ramming the message down the throat of audiences, from elegant and subtle ways to louder and more pernicious manners.
Yet with social media this approach doesn’t work. I was attending a Social Media summit in London recently and some surprising facts were revealed. For example, recent studies show that only 14% of all consumers still believe what a marketer tells them. This is an amazingly low figure, since it effectively says that 86% of all your communication efforts are wasted. The reason for it is that people prefer to hear about products and services from other people, preferably from the same peer group.
Someone else at the same meeting compared the social media discourse between suppliers and consumer like inviting a group of people for dinner. When you are entertaining guests you water and feed them and you engage in conversation. You just don’t ram images (or food) down their throats, and they see you for what you really are. You have nowhere to hide – you can’t be a 60 years old man pretending to be a 25 years old Schwarzenegger look alike.
So trying to put too many controls on social media is counter productive. If you pretend to be the company you are not you will be soon be found out and your reputation will be in tatters. You will be portrayed as a caring and concerned company only if you truly are, and if your employees share the same vision and express it on your social media channels.
A good approach to social media therefore isn’t about controlling the message, but is about training your employees (and even your senior managers) on the opportunities afforded by social media and the minimum standards required. How the message is then delivered should be left to the individuals in question. After all, if your employees manage to establish good peer relationships with your customers you can be assured of long lasting relationships and of the highest possible brand loyalty.
We are only scratching the surface of social media. In a decade or so the way we do business will have changed radically. This is a threatening environment only for those companies who aren’t ready to innovate and open up.