Someone posed the question the other day—are you really a business if you don’t engage on social media? Good question. Social media connects us with the world at large. Social media can replace email. For many people, social media is their only source of news. And it is no doubt a worthwhile tool for any company that wants to engage with its customers and potential customers. Or is it?
There is not a day that goes by that an ill-timed Tweet or insensitive Facebook post sends a business’ social media team into overdrive, requiring them to apologize, rephrase or re-do in order to take back control of the narrative. Any business using social media must do everything it can to ensure the right message reaches the right audience at the right time—and for the right reasons. When this fails, major problems will arise, and the negative impact will probably be amplified by the ability of social media posts to spread rapidly to an increasingly connected, global audience.
Read Abbie Fink's blog post for this episode: "Is Social Media a Blessing or Curse for Corporate Communications?"
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Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm in Phoenix.
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Social media. The term has come to mean a wide variety of things from websites to apps on our phone, to just the way the internet is today. It's the way people communicate, the way we get our information, the way we create content, the way we engage. And it's not entirely straightforward, how social media in 2021 fits into a corporate communications strategy. Here to talk about that is Abbie Fink. She's Vice President and General Manager of HMA Public Relations. Abbie, what's on your mind?Abbie Fink:
Somebody asked me the other day, if I thought a business existed, if they did not have a presence on social. And I had to think a minute about that. And I mean, and I suspect that for a lot of people, if they cannot find an entry point on social media to a particular brand, they may go elsewhere. So I suspect the answer is no, they may not be a strong business if they don't have a social presence. But it's important if you're going to do one, to do it with some strategy and some thought behind it, and really thinking about the potential for what it can do for the good and some of the minefields you might walk through, if you find yourself in a bad spot on social media. So that's what's on my mind.Adrian McIntyre:
It is really interesting, those of us who grew up with magnetic tape drives and then floppy disks, and then disks that were still called floppy, even though they were encased in hard plastic and all the way on. I mean, the evolution of communication, from the earliest bulletin board systems and CompuServe, through AOL, to then in the early 2000s, these new types of sites that started to emerge, High-five and Friendster and my space. And then a little site in 2004, called Facebook and on and on and on and on and on. Till today, everyone's phone is full of apps that are essentially social media apps, and they allow us a kind of communication, which is unprecedented. And it's also, I think, somewhat bewildering to some folks who, while they have evolved from a website to a social media manager to a social media team, are still not quite sure exactly how this fits. Is it a blessing? Has it occurs as it created more problems or more opportunities? There's a lot of different ways we could take this conversation, but from the perspective of a communications professional, who works with clients who need to get their message out to their target audience. Right message, right place, right time, that hasn't changed, but the dynamics have changed. What are some of the major opportunities and pitfalls that occur in this medium?Abbie Fink:
Sure. And I think your point is well taken that the what we have to say and our good story hasn't changed. What we have at our disposal now are hundreds of different ways to get that information out to our potential audiences. And so, is it a blessing or a curse? I'm going to err on the side of blessing for the most part, because I do think social media has given us this opportunity, an incredible opportunity to interact with our customers, our potential customers in a way we've never had before. Communication in my early career was really from me out and it landed where it landed and hopefully action was taken. Well now that action can come back and I can actually know within seconds, if my message hit where it needed to, if the people I was trying to reach are starting to engage or react to it. And within minutes I can change my mind. I can go back on and say, yep, that headline didn't work. Let's put this one up instead. Or this picture didn't resonate, let's try to swap it out. And so thinking about it and looking at it from an overall structure in terms of what is your organization going to do? You absolutely have to consider social media. You cannot not do it. The truth is whether you choose to be an active participant, people are putting you there. They're talking about you, they are tagging you, they are taking pictures from your venue. So you're in it, whether you say I'm going to have a social media presence. Your business, your organization is there. So why not participate in it and make it work for your organization?Adrian McIntyre:
You know, it really, to me raises the even bigger question of what is a brand and where does that brand live? You will find plenty of people who will say the truth, which is the brand is not what you create, it's what other people perceive. It's what other people carry. It's the reputation, the impressions, the thoughts and emotions that arise the way people talk about your company, your products, your services, when you're not around. The brand, belongs to them even more than you. And of course, for brand managers, this could be a disconcerting reality because folks like to be in control of the color palettes and the word choices and how many millions of brand guide books and manuals have been written and put on a shelf somewhere over the years, if folks out there start talking about your company. I'm reminded a number of years ago of the thing that broke out with the country music singer and United Airlines, and he created a video for YouTube, one of the early viral videos called United breaks guitars. And United airlines is now forced to deal with the fact that this is their brand at some level, for everyone who has gotten caught up in that moment of expressing their frustration, their concern, and so on. The brand no longer belongs only to the corporate communication professionals alone. It's a living dynamic entity. How do you counsel executives and directors of marketing and communications to navigate that landscape in a way that is advantageous and respectful at the same time?Abbie Fink:
Well, let's go back one step and talk about where does the brand live? And I think you're right, at some point, we have to be comfortable with losing a bit of that control. And thinking about it from a strategic perspective, if you go in understanding that not everything we do at this point is going to be 100% within our management. If we send something out, it's going to have an interaction with others that are going to take it in a different way than what we might've intended. However, when you own that, then you accept that as a premise, then you work towards being a part of that. If you use your United Airlines example, there were a lot of ways for that to have played out, including going along and having some fun with it, right? And so you can go on to, and Twitter and probably Instagram, maybe are the ones where that happens the most, because it's such a quick platform. You can see examples of brands that have really decided to poke fun at themselves and go along with it and make the engagement be about their personality and bring that to life. And we, as consumers, love that. We want to play in that space. We want to see the person that wanted their chicken sandwich back and spent weeks on Twitter, talking about it. And lo and behold, he has a lifetime supply of chicken sandwiches or the United Airlines or any number of things, where the brand said, you know what, let's go with this. Let's have some fun with it. Now, there are certain brands that, that's not going to work with. There's a little bit more seriousness in some of the other platforms that, that might not play out as well. But recognizing that you've put yourself in this space, now work within the parameters of it to let it be a benefit to your corporate communications. We as consumers, if I step into it from someone who utilizes these platforms as a consumer, there is so much information coming at us at any given time. I mean, in the 10 minutes that you and I have been chatting, thousands and thousands and thousands of posts have been made on any one of the many platforms that are out there. Some are personal in nature, others are being driven by a social media team for a business or an organization. We won't go back and see those. It'll have passed us by. We might go scroll back a couple minutes to see what might've been happening. But in the same token, we can't not be in those spaces if we are that business, because for the one person that's in there, that's paying attention to it, and that's who I'm trying to target. So all of these things are about putting a plan together, figuring out what about social media or which platform within the social media structure you want to engage with, where do you believe your potential target audience is participating and focus your energy there, leaving some of the others, maybe for a different time. We've grown up with new platforms and yet, LinkedIn is still a very corporate driven entity. Most businesses have a corporate presence on LinkedIn. Facebook, maybe skews a little bit older as the generations of early adopters have aged, but they're still participating in it. Twitter, fast paced, quick, quick, quick. Instagram, same thing. And then there's dozens more that are coming on board. New platforms are launching every day. Can you be on all of them? Absolutely not. Do you need to be on all of them? Definitely not. So thinking about it from, and really no different than you would any other communications channel, which ones are going to work the best for me, invest that energy there to manage it, own it, work within it and that's how you start to see it as an important part of your communications efforts.Adrian McIntyre:
There was an interesting analysis I saw recently that pointed to the fact that at the level of features, so many of the biggest social media companies are converging. So Snapchat has a story format, but then Instagram copies the story format. And now there's stories on Facebook and LinkedIn, and so on. Social audio, Clubhouse was all the rage, but all of a sudden Twitter Spaces, and now Facebook has a thing and Spotify has one coming too. They've just acquired another company and they're going to re-brand it. And Spotify is going to have Green Room, which is another social audio app. So at the level of features is not necessarily where the differentiation is. And I 100% agree that there is still a native flavor, culture to each of these platforms. There is norms and forms that are more acceptable in one place than the other. And so understanding the uniqueness and the style on the different platforms is key to success, but it really does raise this question, which you have rightly pointed to. When it comes to designing a strategy for how to leverage what's available now, which is of course, leaps and bounds of what was available two years ago. And it's going to be completely different in another 12 months. How do you think through some of the core issues? For example, should the leaders of a company have a presence as themselves on a platform on an app, or should it really be driven by the logo, the company communicating as itself, whether it's Nike or Wendy's or whatever? This is a serious question that a lot of people grapple with. How do you help them think through, for example, whether the CEO should be creating content on LinkedIn or Twitter or Instagram, or what have you?Abbie Fink:
The question goes back to, why are we investing in social and for what purpose. My personal opinion is that, yes, the brand needs some personality behind it. And if that personality is the business owner or the CEO, then let's see how we can engage them in the process. Now that doesn't mean that a CEO of a major corporation is spending all afternoon on her Twitter feed, typing 140 character messages. But when she, or he decides to be in the social media channel, they need to represent themselves, as well as the brand of their organization. And I think that's where the trouble comes in sometimes, is the person versus the company and how to blend those things in. And I'm a firm believer that there is no dividing line any longer, that if you have a presence on social media, your presence as an individual is linked to your presence as the business that you operate in. And we talk a lot about that when we do training for our clients and our own staff as well, that what you post is who you are, and it represents the organizations that we work with. It represents our company, and so we need to be sure that everything we're doing in our very public space, also reflects who we are as a business and who we are individually. I call it the grandma rule. If you don't think your grandma would appreciate what you posted, probably don't post it. And so thinking through that mindset, so when we sit down with a CEO or a small business owner, why do we want to be on social media? I don't think my audience is, my customers are going to be there. It's as I said before, they're there and they're paying attention and they're looking at it and decision makers within your potential client base are on those different channels. How do you engage with them? And how do you want to be a part of them is really where we talk about the willingness to be into that conversation. And I think from a lot of folks now, it's the comfort level has increased. There's a little bit more understanding of it. They may be a little bit less hesitant to participate and what we do and how we consult with them and what we work with their teams about is really watching and paying attention to what's being said, how it's being said, and that you take just one more minute before you hit the send button. If what you've posted is something that lives on forever, will you be able to stand by it six minutes from now, six months from now and six years from now? Because it's really going to be, you can attempt to delete it, but truthfully, it stays forever suchAdrian McIntyre:
A good point here, because the old saying was, there's no such thing as bad publicity, but that isn't exactly true. And whether the tweet is from an intern or an executive, somebody somewhere will have screen-shotted it in the few seconds it was live and in many cases, longer than a few seconds. And now we've got to deal with the question of damage control. So back to brand, brand perception, all the best intentions in the world can be undone very quickly, if there is a misstep intentional or unintentional. And it brings us back to something we've talked about before on this show, and I'm sure we'll talk about again, which is crisis communications. In some cases, those crises can be instigated by a thoughtless or a misstep, let's say, on social media, and now you've got a whole other problem to solve. And how you do that, determines really what people will be left thinking about the brand. We're not saying you can't make mistakes, how you respond to the mistakes is what people will remember.Abbie Fink:
Exactly. And I think that's where, when we look at some and we point to some situations where an ill time tweet or an insensitive post was out there and we're like, oh my gosh. And then it lingers and lingers and lingers, and nobody's taking action, except for the re-tweeting and the re-posting and the screen-shotting and the, oh my goodness, that everyone else is doing. In any situation where something has gone awry, owning it and fixing it and doing something about it is really where I think all of us want to be open-minded enough and forgiving enough, we all make mistakes. So what do we do about it when we make one? And so if a tweet goes out, that is just wrong time of the day, came out at the wrong circumstances, based on something that's happening in the larger context, taking it down, apologizing for it, explaining what happened, don't blame someone else. I mean, there's a whole slew of interns out there that have been blamed for ill time tweets, when I doubt that that was really the case, honestly. If you're trusting one of your biggest communications platforms, to the least experienced person on your team, you have a whole lot more to worry about than just a bad tweet. But own up to it, right? If there's a team involved and the team made a mistake, what are we going to do to fix it and use the same platform to fix it. If something goes out on Twitter, use Twitter to fix it. If something goes out on YouTube, then create another video to fix it. And yes, it will likely be there and it may follow you for a bit, but we all want to see, again, the personality behind it. Look, we messed it up and we're going to fix it, and here's what we're going to do about it.Adrian McIntyre:
It's always an opportunity really, to show your company's values in practice, by how you respond to things. I always say that the channels themselves are less the issue. The pipes aren't the point, it's the water in the pipes that really matters. So to me, social media, which is just the way things are now, it's the phones we carry around and the apps on those phones and the websites and everything else. It's an opportunity to actually be the best kind of human being that we can be. So the same timeless principles are still true, whether we're talking about Clubhouse or Myspace, which is still slumbering on out there somewhere. And those are, listening is always more important than talking, having a thoughtful response to someone who criticizes you, being more open and engaging and less self-centered. Right, don't be the person who walks into a party and starts telling everyone in the room how awesome you are. That's gross, whether you're doing it in real life or doing it with content. And really just use whatever vehicle, whatever medium you have available to try to be the best version. I don't mean the most fake version. I mean, really the truest, most honest, most value centered version of yourself that you can be, whether you're communicating as the logo or whether you're the leader, who's doing it on her own account. It's an opportunity for great communication, and that hasn't changed.Abbie Fink:
No, and, and I think, for me, where the difficulty comes in is when a brand has a very well-known or recognized leader that has a big presence and does get actively engaged in communication and is involved, and has social media that is really their own versus what the company is. And when, as consumers, we see them as one and the same and where I would support what that might look like is when it is done authentically and it is, this is who we are, and this is our brand. And we talked a lot about organizations taking a stand and being public in their do good philosophy and be who you are, be real in what you're doing, and be a part of the conversation. And use these very, very powerful platforms to not only enhance your business and grow your business and engage with your consumers, but if you want to make a social impact and you want to get involved in the issues of the day, then make sure they align with what your business stands for. This is a platform that we have. We have a very big platform now, but we're still responsible as individuals that utilize it to be responsible in what we post. Today, we all have the ability to change the dynamic of a conversation by how we choose to participate in social. And we can watch it happening now in terms of really a lot of the social justice issues that have happened and are happening. We've watched campaigns around, get out to vote. We've certainly saw a lot of it in the last year, around the Covid-19 messaging, about all the public health and safety concerns, social distancing, wear your masks, get vaccinated. A lot of that grew out of social media because of the instantaneous way it was to get to it. Agree or disagree with the content, that's fine, but the platforms themselves have given voice to some amazing campaigns to change philosophy and change process. And done responsibly and done responsibly as a business, done responsibly as individuals, is a very powerful tool. And as I said earlier, it is a tool so be very thoughtful about who you're putting in charge of those very powerful tools at your organization. And I have worked with some amazing young, up and coming communications professionals that are smart and savvy and creative. And I want them as part of my communications team, and I want them involved in social, but we all need an understanding of the strategy behind it and why we're doing it. And it's not just a post, there's a reason for it, and the reasons that we are doing it and what we need to have happen, as a result of it and bring in the best people to make those things happen, and use it in such a way that for good. Then when something maybe not so great happens, your followers, your fans, your folks, your 'grammers, whatever we're calling the people that follow us on these different platforms, give you the benefit of the doubt. It's really no different than what we talked about in that crisis communications, as you said. If you've been authentic, transparent and who you are all along, any misstep that might happen, you have the opportunity to fix it and be open to your audiences in such a way that they will be very forgiving in the event that it goes a little off from what you had intended to do. So I think it's a fantastic tool. I, as I said at the beginning, would always call it more of a blessing for what we've got, because we have the ability to really make impact and use something at our disposal in a very quick way, in a very strategic way, and it's not going away. And so recognizing that and figuring out how to make it work for you is in my view, the way that it really should go. And thinking about it in that context is a real critical part and a real successful part of your corporate communication strategy.
If you enjoyed today’s show, please find and follow Copper State of Mind in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other podcast app. You can also find the show online at HMAPR.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I’m Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Copper State of Mind.