Brian Solis, the author of Engage and prolific social-media researcher, laconically wrote in his book, “Engage or die” (Solis, 2). He went on to clarify that companies that fail to interest their audience in a meaningful, enduring, and transparent manner will ultimately be superseded by companies that do. He went on to explain that “Inevitably, however, the greatest advantages of social media reside in its ability for worthy individuals and companies to shape perceptions, steer activity, incite action, and adapt to the communities that establish the markets” (12).
Solis touches upon the idea of companies adjusting to their communities. A strange concept for business only a couple of decades ago, possibly, but a very important consideration now with how prevalent and influential online communities have become. Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff mention in their book The Groundswell the significance of social media, and as they succinctly explained, “Your brand is whatever the customer says it is” (Li and Bernoff, 78). Indeed, because of the widespread use of services like Twitter, Facebook, and youtube, the power of social media—or the groups of people that comprise them (and it is important to remember that)—now can damage or boost a company’s reputation because it gives customers a platform to reach potentially millions of other consumers with relative ease.
For Example (not a real one):
Twitter + many followers + “Wal-Mart is trying to lie to us into thinking they’re a good company with a fake PR campaign.” = a potential sh!tstorm for Wal-Mart (Poor Wal-Mart, forever being PR’s example of a company making a bad decision). That 93-character message that costs a customer nothing to produce has potentially cost a corporation millions in lost sales and PR campaigns. This is especially true if the groundswell gets hold of the message. The groundswell is the generic term ascribed to how quickly a message produced on a social-media platform proliferates and gains support through online communities.
So a good rule-of-thumb according to John Havens and Shel Holtz, the authors of Tactical Transparency, is to always be upfront with your intentions, a lesson hard-learned by Edelman and Wal-Mart during the Wal-Marting Across America campaign.
If companies don’t work with their publics and communities in a clear and honest method to construct a brand, then they are putting their name adrift in the turbulent seas of social media and allowing (either willingly or not) the community tides to decide if that brand sinks or floats. By working with their audience, companies can direct their brand into safer waters, but they need to be constantly aware of reefs lurking just below the surface or icebergs on the horizon—each encounter a potential social-media disaster.
By Iam Pace, find me on twitter–dubiousbyname
Tactical Transparency by John Havens and Shel Holtz | November 8, 2008
The Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff | 2008
Brian Solis. (2010) Engage: Engage: The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web
An Introduction to Ethics January 27, 2011