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?

Corporate Communications – Trends for 2010

Following on from the piece in PR Week (issue dated January 29, probably still on sale, this week’s cover price – oooooo – £12.34, or nearest offer – or just click here) about the latest Edelman Trust Barometer (well done the Week – a genuinely useful news piece – I have high hopes of you for the future), I came across this, an article from Entrepreneur magazine.

(Before I go on, I should also say that the author of the article, one Susan Gunelius, also features regularly in Communicate Magazine’s ‘Who’s Blogging What’ section. So do I, actually, so it’s no guarantee of quality.)

Anyhoo – yesterday, btw, was Groundhog Day and the wee critter duly came out of his quarters, saw his shadow and condemned us to six more weeks’ winter. Or maybe it’s just the States. Small creature’s vermin, in any case. The article in Entrepreneur magazine provides – for discussion, obviously – 10 marketing trends for 2010. I have to say that my initial instinct was to discard it as hippy nonsense (and some of it I still do) but in the light of what Messrs Edelman had to say, I can’t help but thinking it needs a further examination, especially in terms of how some of the 10 might affect the corporate communicator.

Thinking caps on, then, chaps – eyes down, here are the trends that we should be pondering:

  • Transparency and trust are paramount (Edelman go as far as to propose that trust and transparency rank higher than product quality – I’m summarising – and that financial return is one of the least important factors in driving corporate reputation)
  • Less interruption, more enhancement and value-add – don’t go disturbing people with your messages (unless you’re Mr T and Snickers) – give them something they can use
  • People want value – sometimes as simply as making their disposable incomes go further with discounts and free stuff – give them that and they’ll love you
  • Show, don’t tell – actions speak louder than words, so demonstrate what the benefit of your stuff is – what will the audience actually get if they give you their hard-earned
  • Peace of mind is the new black – your audiences want reassurance, because they’re hurting right now, and they want to hear it in your marketing and communications messages

OK – I’ve paraphrased it, and I’ve not included all of the 10 Marketing Trends for 2010 – because I still don’t believe in the ‘global conversation’ voodoo, and I do think that there is still an outside chance that social media as marketing, comms and sales tools may still be exposed for the valueless charades that they are. (Oooops – did I say that out loud?)

(Back to Edelman briefly – their study shows that traditional media are still more highly trusted that social media, blogs or websites – so there, social media evangelists and gurus! Eh?)

Finally, and it’s not new, but maybe we can make it work this time round – ‘integrated marketing trumps standalone tactics’. This means a new era of co-operation between sales, marketing and comms, if we are to get it right.

(Less sniggering at the back, please.)