Corporate Reputation – Toyota And The Need For Purpose

I am very fond of the internet. (Even though, obviously, I don’t know all of it.) It’s mostly the way that things just crop up, without one necessarily looking for them, which provide insight into, and opinion on, stuff that is instantly resonant and relevant. There’s always someone out there in webworld who sees the connection between events and best practice, in any field, or sector, or discipline, even when you haven’t. Everything I’ve just said here is, of course, stating the obvious – that’s what you’d expect from the feral communities engendered by the net – and it’s not that which astounds. No – it’s the serendipity with which the net throws things one’s way – almost as if there was some sort of a fate lending an ethereal hand.

Most likely, it’s to do with quantum. Algorithm’s gonna get you.

Anyway – here’s a piece that I think is splendid. It’s from a blog called Decision to Lead – Expanding the Practice of Leadership and it’s by a lady called Frances Frei, who is (according to the blurb) ‘Harvard Business School’s resident expert of service excellence’. Which, to my mind, gives her a bit of gravitas.

The piece is about the whole ongoing Toyota situation of which we are all aware, even if we’re not sure how many cars have been recalled and what, exactly, they’ve been recalled for. Mechanical bloopers, shall we say. Frances comes at it from the angle of what I will call ‘corporate religion’ and what she calls a purpose. You can read the post yourselves, dear blog snorkellers, but Frances posits that Toyota lost its focus on its corporate purpose of ‘improvement’ – improvement of its product and improvement in the way its product was constructed. From the pursuit of this purpose came business success – sales and profits. Toyoat lost its focus – or rather its focus shifted, from improvement as a corporate purpose, to sales and profits as goals in themselves. As these became the goals of the company, so corners were cut, so the pride and motivation of the workforce became less – and it was then but a matter of time before what happened, happened.

It’s a great lesson – shame that it takes a global product recall, and its affect on the consumer, to teach it. The lesson is that businesses and organisations that have true longevity, that are the ones that enjoy enduring success (in the form of sales and profits), that are the ones that engender respect and admiration in their stakeholders – these are businesses for whom sales and profits are not goals in themselves. They are function of the bigger corporate purpose – the mission, the vision, the intent, the corporate religion – whatever you’d wish to call it. With a clearly defined and articulated purpose comes pride and motivation and – yes – reward for the people that make the business or organisation run.

(PS. Lest I be accused of being an unreconstructed, irredeemable hippy, I know that there are industries and business sectors where the purpose is nothing more or less than profit, and the people who are involved in them are wholly subsumed in the pursuit of the purpose – banking, mostly. I will be hippy-ish, mind, and ask whether we’d be in such a global economic bind right now if, perhaps, the bankers had had another purpose, other than sheer greed.)

(PPS. The need for corporate purpose has been around forever. I say this to prevent anyone trying to tell me that it’s part of the New Age of business, where everyone has a voice and everyone’s voice is important, which has been brought about by that life-changing, world-shaping phenomenon, social media. Horse droppings.)

Social Media – Handling Online Criticism

Once again, dear blog snorkellers, never let it be said that I don’t give you anything of any value. Here’s a piece which I came across recently, which is entitled “For Nonprofit Organizations: How To Handle Online Criticism” (As you can see from the errant and offensive ‘z’, it’s an American post.) Don’t be put off by the whole ‘Nonprofit’ bit (if you’re not a nonprofit), the meat of the article applies across the board. It is a long and lengthy piece, stuffed full of links, so it takes a bit of time, but it contains good thinking on the topic.

For the sake of clarity, I am not a fan of social media as a commercial marketing or communications tool. I think it is overrated and overvalued, and that far too much is being made of it by people who do not understand (for who can) where it is going, how it will develop and what effects (if any) it will have on the way people make purchasing decisions.

The one thing that I am certain of, however, is that social media will cause and trigger more problems than it solves. The very fact that anyone, anywhere – if they have internet access – can post anything is going to lead to trouble. It’s the whole ‘infinite number of monkeys, with an infinite number of typewriters’ deal, only in this case an infinite number of surfers with an infinite number of fora are unlikely to produce the complete works of Shakespeare – more likely the sort of chaos that is created by the complete works of any local council’s department of works.

But what is guaranteed is that with complete freedom of expression comes a complete range of opinion – including the bitter, twisted, isolated and disturbing – and some of that opinion will be critical. And if that critical opinion gains critical mass – rightly or wrongly – very quickly (very quickly indeed) it will be everywhere.

How you deal with that criticism – the speed with which you do so, the manner in which you do so, the content that you use – will reflect upon your enterprise, business, organisation or brand and – in fact – offers an opportunity to amass valuable reputational credits.

Public Relations – Owning The Media Agenda?

Here’s an interesting piece from O’Leary Analytics in Ireland, who’ve done some work on the media profile, and the coverage achieved by, Ryanair – purveyor of ostensibly cheap, yet somehow slightly threatening, airline travel to the masses.

Their conclusion is that the team at Ryanair, love ‘em or loathe ‘em, actually ‘own’ the media agenda – by which I understand that they manipulate it to their own ends.

Which is fair, and probably true – but what is genuinely interesting here and a real lesson for all communicators is not that Ryanair own the media agenda, but how they have achieved that ownership.

Until I saw O’Leary’s work on this, I presumed that it was the force of personality of (Wee Angry) Michael O’Leary, the airline’s head honcho, a man with a real flair for charm, diplomacy and stakeholder relations. (No, of course he hasn’t.)

But it’s not. What it is, is the company’s fearless willingness to court controversy and – most importantly – to isolate the stories (or make them up, if necessary) that are certain to create that controversy. There’s also no doubt that success and profitability are key imperatives that run throughout the business and occupy everyone’s mind. (Take the case of the Ryanair ‘we’ll make people pay for using the toilet’ story – started as a PR stunt, now seems set to become a reality, presumably because there’s a few euro to be had out of it.)

If you look at the peaks of Ryanair coverage, they’re mostly around stories that are completely calculated to grab media attention – and they’re not all positive. A set of bad results? Discount fares some more! Halve your order for new aircraft? Give some money back to shareholders! Even if it’s bad news, Ryanair do not seek to hide it – no! It’s just another opportunity to court controversy – to take control of the media agenda.

No – lest I be pilloried here – I’m not saying that this works for all companies in the same way it works for Ryanair. Ryanair is happy to have a devil-may-care, abrasive, unsympathetic, non-customer-centric image – O’Leary (Michael, not Analytics) would be the first to say it’s all about keeping prices down – that’s all that matters (in tandem with making some money for the shareholders, obviously). Not all companies – in fact very few companies – would wish to be seen in the same way.

But that’s not to say that we can’t all learn something from the Ryanair example – adapt their mindset and way of doing things to suit our own set-up, and our own corporate culture. And in so doing, maybe get a greater level of control over our media’s agenda.

Social Media – Pepsi Syndrome

It’s like Stockholm Syndrome, but especially for social media. What happens is that a company, brand or organisation becomes aware of social media – either from within (generally the rot starts in IT) or from without, via the snake-oil salesmen des nos jours, the self-styled social media gurus.

The background noise becomes a barrage, once aware of social media, you cannot simply ignore it – it’s like hives – and before you know it, you’re a hostage to the phenomenon. No part of your business is immune to the lure of the Shiny Object – no department is without its social media evangelist. It’s particularly bad in marketing-led organisations, riven (as they are) with insecurities and staffed by those who cannot be left behind and are possessed of a spectacular herd mentality.

Eventually, while you have to give credit to the decision makers in any organisation, who will understand that they are being coerced and will see the unhealthy nature of the relationship, the company, brand or business learns to love its oppressor.

And that’s when Pepsi removed the $20m from its sponsorship of the Super Bowl and decided to plough it into social media.

I came across this blog, by a lady called Christine Hueber. Because I know that you, dear blog snorkellers, are inherently lazy, and won’t click on the link (even if it were to save your life), I reproduce it here in full:

Pepsi: Social Media $20 Million — Super Bowl $0

LinkedIn was the initial source for me of this wonderful news:   Pepsi is spending $20 million on Social Media instead of Super Bowl advertising!

What do you think this news means for Social Media?

Best,

Christine

Christine Hueber

Engaging Social Media Relationship Marketing with Results!

+1 530.582.8091 Direct

What does this mean for social media? Nothing. What does it mean for Pepsi? That they’ve completely lost the plot.

Social Media – Vodafone Twit Highlights Need For Corporate Social Media Control

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – corporate use of social media is a dangerous thing, and if you are going to dip your toe, then you need a frankly medieval ‘corporate use of social media’ policy in place to ensure the wingnuts do not scupper your dinghy.

As happened earlier this month over at Vodafone, a rather large purveyor of telecommunications services to the global community. Vodafone’s on Twitter, d’you see, and although it’s only managed to garner some 9.5k followers with its 5k-odd tweets, it’s pursuing its strategy with verve.

Suddenly, last week, a tweet was tweeted suggesting that – avert your eyes, those of a sensitive disposition – “@VodafoneUK is fed up of dirty homo's (sic) and is going after beaver”. Well. Here’s commentary from www.pocketlint.com, suggesting that Voodoofone’s Twitter account is internally compromised.

Of course, it wasn’t, and – whether you choose to believe it or not, you have to give credit to Mojambofone’s crisis management people – pocketlint posted this yesterday, recounting Jujufone’s official explanation. For those of my blog snorkellers what is hard of de clickery, the explanation is pretty much ‘a big boy did it and ran away’. Only in this case, they appear to have found the big boy, and I can only imagine that he (or she, even) is in a small room somewhere, tied to a chair, while some HR lovelies get all 16th century on his ass.

 Moral of the story? There need to be rules. Perhaps Blackmagicfone has a ‘corporate use of social media’ policy, but it sure as hell ain’t working. As I’ve postulated before, there’s always a proportion of employees – and of the general public, as it happens – terminally afflicted with Twitterette’s. This is the unholy urge to shout ‘bum!’ and ‘poo!’ in public places and at inappropriate times. Generally when confronted with a mass medium (like Twitter, or Facebook), the implications of which they do not fully understand. They do not understand that their ‘bum!’ has a potential audience of – ooooh – everyone. (Luckily, in this case, it was an immediate audience of 9.5k people – although you can still find the post, because it’s been re-tweeted and re-tweeted – whatever that means.)

Anyway, bottom line – a proper use of social media policy, with proper rules, is absolutely imperative. It won’t stop this sort of nonsense altogether, but it may make the f*ckwits think twice. I recommend really, really serious disciplinary action. Boilings in oil. Skinnings alive.

But really, the way to deal with it – folks – is NOT TO GET INVOLVED IN THE FIRST PLACE.

How many times do I have to say this?

Social Media – Not Just For The Nasty Things In Life….Oh…Hold On…

This piece from the new York Times. Jonathan Schwartz, the ‘last chief executive’ of Sun Microsystems – sounds like he ought to be the subject of a movie starring Tom ‘Frighteningly Insane’ Cruise – announces his resignation via Twitter. (Here’s the feed in all its Twittery glory.)

(Actually, I’m fairly sure that he didn’t announce his resignation via Twitter – technically speaking – I’m fairly sure that he did it like everyone else would have, in a letter, delivered by hand to Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle and a man ‘not especially fond of Mr Schwartz’.)

For the hard of clicking, who want everything fed to them on a plate, he did it in the form of a haiku.

That being as it may, the NYT has some interesting stuff to say about Mr Schwartz. Apparently, he ‘has been fond of using the internet as a soapbox’ and was ‘the first CEO of a major company to put up his own blog’ and, indeed, ‘pushed the Securities and Exchange Commission to put blogs on equal footing with press releases and filings when it comes to disclosing critical business matters to investors’. Doesn’t say whether he succeeded.

Which all sounds great. Then you dig a little and find that between April 30 2008 and Feb 3 2010, he managed 36 tweets. Hardly prolific, although he has amassed over 10,000 followers. (Sycophants.) Oh – and his Twitter tag is OpenJonathan, which I’m not wholly convinced by. Luckily, a lot of his Tweets link to his blog.

And his blog’s a belter. This is the way it should be done. The NYT under-egged the cake in my opinion. It was started in June 2004 – here’s the first post, read it before Mr Ellison takes it down – it’s been updated regularly and, as far as I can see, mixes core product messaging (at least I think that’s what it is, I’m not really qualified in the techie arena) with splendid, apparently homespun philosophy. I particularly like the post about having lunch with Tony Blair – genius.

Anyway, this isn’t a hagiography. What it is is a suggestion that more c-suite execs should be trying to approach this tone of voice and this balance of content and should be talking to their audiences through the medium of digital (and I do mean the medium of digital, not the medium of social – I know they’re easily confused. For the record Twitter is social – and we can see here that it’s nowhere near as effective or compelling as the blog, which is digital).

As we know, in this post-economic apocalypse age, our audiences – especially employees, suppliers, business partners and customers – want messages of comfort and reassurance, and want to see companies walking the walk, not just talking the talk. What better way to achieve this than by showing a bit of personality – something that people can relate to.

Why do I suspect that Mr Ellison of Oracle probably disagrees.

Social Media and Social Responsibility – Not The Same, Not Related, Not Linked

I suppose it was only a matter of time. My regular blog snorkellers will be familiar with my feelings about the industry that has grown up around social media – comprising social media gurus and evangelist and experts, the most of them snake-oil salespeople, mountebanks and charlatans. In retrospect, it’s not dissimilar to what happened when CSR and sustainability became ‘buzz’ phrases – say 10 years ago.

And now – as evinced by this article from Mashable – the two worlds have collided, bringing a breed of consultant advocating corporate social responsibility through social media strategy. Just sit back and think about that for a moment – revel in the horror of it – the wasted resource, the enormous expense, the inevitable lack of any tangible results.

Anyway, the article in question is by one Ann Charles (founder and CEO of BRANDfog – have a look at the website, if you dare) and is dedicated to ‘5 steps to develop(ing) a CSR culture using social media’. Before it gets to the ‘5 steps’ however, there’s some wonderful introductory prose to wade through. It’s the sort of stuff that I would advocate pinning over the desk of anyone thinking of forging a career in communications. Try this on for size:

“Thanks to a social media culture that reveres transparency and demands accountability, companies today are seen through the critical lens of the Triple Bottom Line: People, planet and profit. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) states that businesses should act as stewards of society, the environment, and the economy. The social media spotlight brings accolades and new business for companies that give back, while brands behaving badly are pilloried in online communities like TwitterTwitter and FacebookFacebook, followed by the mainstream press.”

Lest anyone be under any illusion, I find this to be an ill-considered, badly-put-together hotch-potch of truisms and motherhood statements. (Sorry).

Anyway – to the point – here are the five steps:

  • Commit and lead
  • Listen and learn
  • Innovate
  • Communicate
  • Invest

And, d’you know, I cannot argue with a single one of them. If you are building a sound corporate culture – and if you haven’t got one, you should have, this much is true – then these are definitely the steps you should follow.

I am a firm believer in creating, growing, establishing and living a strong corporate culture – what has been called a ‘corporate religion’ – that everyone who works for, or does business with, the company should be able to see, respect, understand and believe in. It’s a simple fact of corporate reputation management – if people respect you and believe in you (and perhaps even like you) then they will be happier doing business with you. Amazingly enough, a great (and current) example of this is Starbucks – see my earlier post for chapter and verse.

If you get your corporate religion right, then your CSR will happen naturally, in an unforced, synergistic and wholly natural fashion. It will not look deliberate, and therefore suspicious.

But the five steps above are not specific to CSR. And they certainly are not specific to developing a CSR culture using social media. Even the author of the offending article has difficulty shoehorning social media into her narrative and examples. Once again, this is a case of desperately trying to find a use for social media and, in the process, simply demonstrating that social media aren’t really (in a business context) very useful.

And why would you pay a consultant to learn that?