As promised last week I have been looking into how Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) and social media can be combined in order to create the optimal conditions for CSR communication. If one looks at CSR as the ability and willingness of an organisation to engage with its stakeholders in an effort to understand and possible meet their needs the Social media can play a central role. On the other hand if the organisation only looks upon social media as a way to get the “message across” then they will only venture down the path of failure and possible ridicule at least among the people who use the media in a professional manor.
In short is IMC is the integration of all the communication of the organisation into one single message. The definition might seem very simple but it is the application of this basic principle, which most companies struggle. The main issue is that when organisation tries to coordinate their communication into one single voice they often do so by limiting the number of channels. This has the apparent advantage of maintaining control but at the same time it reduces and to some extent eliminates the advantages to an IMC approach.
To add to this complexity we have seen a raise of new media, which put even more demands on organisations and their ability to communicate. Social media means just that that they at their core are social they demand that organisation communicate with and not only inform their stakeholders.
Social media comes in all sizes and shapes and if you are a person under 50 there is a overwhelming chance that you are part of the social media sphere on one of the platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter or one of the many private platforms which are provided on state or corporate level. While you might not have signed up for one of these platforms you there is a high probability that you have been watching videos on YouTube, looked for information on Wikipedia or made a call using Skype, either way you are connected. For the very same reason companies and organisations are very anxious to get access to these media in order to sell products or improve their brand. Most of these companies, however, look at the media in much the same way as advertising and while this approach is “easy” it is at the same time ineffective. Again…Social media means Social so you need to take that serious.
So what do you do with this media if you can’t use the traditional tools to effectively communicate? Well for one you need to comprehend the scope of the media not only in terms of potential clients but also all the other people who will be listening in. This also means that you need to think about suppliers, employees and their families, friends, critical voices, management, the corporate board, the local community, politics and politicians, the list is long.
Even the most effective and well-staffed organisation can’t nurture all their stakeholders all the time and the good thing is that they do not have to if they are able to understand and use IMC to their ends. Ones you have found out the What, Why, How and When your next step in the process is to understand the media its possibilities and limits. I have compiled a list of subjects that your organisation needs to consider.
Listen and Learn – As much as social media is a possibility to get in contact with your most important stakeholders it is also a place from where you can listen and learn to their advice. This does not mean that you have to do everything that they suggests but it gives you the possibility to find out what is the hot topics around your organisation. Make sure that you do not only have one channel to listen from but be active in groups which are discussing some of the same issues and concerns that you are also dealing with. So for example if you are in the freight forwarder business you might be interested in alternatives to fossil fuels, cargo space optimisation, Supply chain management issues, politics around airports, Human resources and management development, etc. All these subjects have hundreds of interest groups and offer a great possibility to learn what is going on and maybe get a few ideas along the way.
Lead – Do not be to humble around your business or organisation you have to lead the way. You might thin that there are others who in many was have more resources and have bigger organisational structures but on the Internet none of this matters. Here you can lead even though you are representing just a few people. Leading means that you take up subjects which interest you and that you engage in discussions when they arise. You come up for suggestions for positive change (meaning constructive criticism) and take new parameter into the debate when it halts. You keep you “corporate” image at a safe distance, as you otherwise might come across as a corporate “lap-dog”. People will know who you are and the place you work at from goggling or other means of investigation based on what you say and if they think you are interesting to listen too. It is not that you should keep it a secret where your come from as this might be interpreted as being dishonest just do not overplay your cards.
Innovate – If you think that you have a good idea or you find somebody out there who comes up with something do not hesitate to communicate it. You might be surprised how many people who are willing to help out if you give them the possibility. Be part of the process and do not be afraid to contribute it is very few ideas that can be used as part of your product line but you will find that the creative process will make you start to think how you can improve your own products to sooth your clients even better. Look at social media as a place were you can test your ideas out and might get them to the first or second step of development but that you need to fine-tune them in your own workshop.
Invest – If you do not contribute to the social media scene you will eventually be ignored by your peers. You need to invest your time and intellectual resources in the social media if you are going to come across as having any credibility. It is not unlike when you have friends if you are always the person getting help and asking if people can nurture your needs they will eventually disappear. Show that you are willing and able to contribute to community then other will be more willing to give you something back.
Get people involved – Get people participating from all levels of your organisation not just senior management (who we all know let their aid do the blogging) and the communication (that have to) or marketing (who just wants to sell) department. Encourage you colleagues to contribute about the things that they care about and trust that they will have judgment enough to be able to distinguish between what to say (f.ex. I ad had a really bad day at work) and what not to say (f.ex. my boss is the biggest a.. in the world), if necessary teach them the basic ins- and outs of communicating though social media. Remember that your organisation have hired these people and trust them well enough to handle your resources so as a point of departure you should also trust them to communicate about it.
Yes, getting the “message across” – If you want to get the message across in the traditional sense you should not use social media in order to do so. If you are just using the media as a new type of add you will not be able to harvest the benefits that the media potentially can spawn for your organisation. Getting the message across in social media means that you are willing and able to negotiate the message it self. You put some idea or piece of information out there and then it does no longer belong to you but rather it becomes part of the collective discussion. People might think it is really good other might not some will ignore you message others wants to engage and discuss. You have to be able to respond to your stakeholder’s attitude to your piece of communication and remember that silence is also a way to give feedback and should prompt a response from you.
Communicate – Last but not least is social media a place where you communicate not for one-way information dissemination. When people want to listen to you, you might as well have the kindness to listen back when they try to give you good advice. You might not think much of the advice you are getting but that does not mean that you bring people down or tall them of see it as a genuine interest.
ROI – The return-on-investment for your social media efforts can come from many directions. One thing is of cause your ability to communicate with your stakeholders, but it also enables you to build a reputation that will serve you well if you get in trouble. Just think if people had rallied around some of the companies that get in trouble if they had had a follower group who were willing to stand up for the organisations. Were would the BP brand be today if stakeholders in the Mexican gulf had said that “mistakes happens but we continue to trust that they have our best interest in mind” even after the disaster. Today the BP brand is at an all time low because they made the choice to keep their stakeholders from communicating with them when things went from bad to worse. Had they had a different strategy, which took into account all the organisations communication, they would properly be able to claim a much different outcome.
My last comment will be that social media is not the universal communicative tool that will solve all your issues management cases. Rather it is a supplement to all the other activities that your organisation engage in from direct sales, advertising, shareholder meetings, CSR, direct marketing, conferences, etc. everywhere members of your organisation communicate they are part of the co-creation of the corporate image.