Social Media – The Other End of the World

As my regular blog snorkellers will know, I’ve not been backward in coming forward with my theory that social media is on its way out. This is for reasons too innumerable to mention here, including the fact that no-one’s making any money out of it, it’s being swamped by spam, the user growth figures are slowing, the user growth figures have never reflected the reality of the amount of people who sign up then never use the service again and – my favourite – because I say so.

There is another theory, however and in the spirit of fairness and balance, I give an iteration of it a hearing here. Clickety-clink – here’s the link!

(Can’t believe I just wrote that.)

The theory says that the traditional digital comms tools – email, websites – are themselves on the way out, to be subsumed into social media. The reasoning goes that social media provides opportunities to communicate and to provide content that email cannot – to summarise and paraphrase – email is one-dimensional and the social media are not. Same goes for the traditional, reasonably static website – why would you, really, when user-generated, arguably richer content pertaining to a brand or organisation is out there in the blogosphere, or posted on Facebook?

But then the theory trips up. I think it trips up because of the widespread inability to separate social media into its two component parts.

  • Something that people do in their spare time (and when they’re notworking, obviously) to keep up with friends and family, ask for advice on things that trouble/interest them and view/download jokes, clips, tracks, patches etc etc.
  • Something that simply is not working as a marketing, communications or reputation-building tool.

Just because individuals, in their day-to-day lives, may decide to run those lives via Facebook or Twitter or some combination of the two, does not make them valid, or valuable, business tools. Business requires communication without distractions, without logins, without a ‘spirit of community’ and – most importantly – without commentary from everyone who reads it. This is why email, as it is currently, works – for business purposes – so well. You can choose who receives it, you can monitor it and you can cane people who misuse it or try to hide their use of it. The thing that will change about email is how we send and receive it and what it looks like when we do send and receive it.

I also draw attention to the school of thought that says ‘ask a 20-year-old whether they’re using email’ as if this has any bearing on the matter. No, they’re not – they’re texting and using social media (well, some are, anyway) – but, quite frankly, who cares? Email is a business tool (and I include marketing and corporate comms within ‘business’) and 20-year-olds are a notoriously difficult-to-reach audience with limited appeal. You might as well ask an 80-year-old whether they’re using email for all the relevance it has.

And traditional, static websites – well, here’s a sensible post. Actually, there’s more of a place for traditional corporate websites that ever before – and why? Because, thanks to social media (and the way the bigger internet players are forcing us to behave – yes, forcing – Google SideWiki, anyone?) there’s such a slew of information that, ironically enough, the only place you’ll be able to go for reasonably accurate and (dare I say) impartial information will be the corporate website.

Now, I’d just like to make it clear – again, and mainly for my wife, who thinks I’m a cave-dwelling technophobe – that I am not either denying the existence of social media or telling anyone to stick their heads in the sand. Social media is here. Loads of people are using it. It is right and fitting that if we work in communications then we should have a knowledge of it. That being said – I repeat – do not confuse the social media that people use to run/ruin their personal lives and the social media that has all the potential to ruin your business (uncontrolled rumour and bad-mouthing) and none of the potential to materially enhance your revenues.

Social Media Policies – Pros and Cons

You may well have seen this, but I hadn’t and I thought it’s worth commenting on. This is from February this year, when an Irish blogger – Jason Roe – thought he had discovered a glitch in Ryanair’s website. He blogged about it. His post attracted commentary from Ryanair Staff – later confirmed as being, yep, a member of Ryanair’s staff.

Read – and gasp in wonder – here.

Quite clearly, at the time, Ryanair had no social media policy, governing who could post to what, when and how they should approach it. When the official response came out – here’s an article containing it (and a picture of Mr Roe) – it was made quite clear that they had no intention of getting a social media policy anytime soon.

You can take one of two things from this – up to you.

  • This is a salutary lesson in the importance of having a social media policy and ensuring that all your employees understand and abide by it
  • This demonstrates that it really doesn’t matter whether you have a policy or not, and whether your employees post to social media sites/blogs/messageboards or not – if your company has a sound business proposition, corporate reputation is not important, you’ll continue to make money

Personally, I think it’s all about what sort of company it is and – most importantly – what sort of leadership it has, based on the eternal truth that, like it or not, all business organisations will reflect the character of their leaders (CEO, President, Chairman – whatever).

In the case of Ryanair, it’s all about price. It’s cheap and it at the moment it has a strong customer base because it’s cheap. As long as it’s cheaper (or as cheap) as its competitors, it will have a share of the current market, a market which is (must be?) growing as people (generally) have less money. Therefore, the warmth of corporate reputation and customer admiration is something it doesn’t need.

And its leader is Michael O’Leary, a seemingly unpleasant, short individual with – it would be easy to infer from interviews given and commentary made – the emotional intelligence of a scorpion and the subtlety of an angry rhino. (Just in case anyone’s missed him – here’s some O’Learyisms.)

On balance, a company such as Ryanair has no need of a social media policy currently. It remains to be seen how long they can continue like this, mind.

(Oh – and I’d fly Aer Lingus or Aer Arann if I were you.)

Social Media – What They Really Want (2)

Since my last post I’ve been inundated with quite literally no requests for clarification of the term ‘Free Stuff’. This complete lack of interest seems to centre round the misapprehension that, when I say ‘Free Stuff’, I’m talking about tangible goods, for free.

No. It’s a metaphor. What I’m talking about is something that a consumer (or stakeholder) wouldn’t otherwise have, that adds value to their existence, and comes without charge. So – it could be tangible goods for free, or it might be an exclusive discount, or a print-and-play voucher, or a competition, or simply some useful information.

As we’re discussing this in the context of social media, I know there are those who will maintain that this is exactly what social media does – through the medium of the conversation, the Q&A, ‘Free Stuff’ (generally information) is provided.

Well, yes and no. Mostly no. Social media are populated by several groups. Those who seek to belong, those who seek validation (through followers and fans), those who cannot bear to be alone, those who believe others are interested, those who are there by mistake and the ghosts who came once, never go again, yet leave traces of themselves in terms of usernames and unfinished profiles. All untraceable, unevaluable and – mostly – unquantifiable.

And as they are so diverse and give little clue to what they really, really want (and I’m certain that many of them do, simply, want to zigazig ah) a brand or organisation wishing to give them ‘Free Stuff’ actually can’t. Because one size does not fit all and they don’t ask directly (well, not often).

What this means is that brand or corporate pursuing its benighted and expensive social media ‘strategy’ is obliged to provide one of three things. Reaction to negative comment, general product or corporate info or Irritating Voiceover. Or any combination of the three.

Well, the pedants will say, this IS, by the definition outlined here, Free Stuff.

And indeed it is. But it’s low-level, generic Free Stuff that should be on your website anyway. If your consumers are having to get, or ask for, general info via Twitter or Facebook, then there is something seriously wrong in another area of your communications mix. Or, maybe, those consumers (stakeholders) are just sad and needy and desperately crave human contact. Any human contact.

Going back to Free Stuff – the Free Stuff that people want is stuff that feels special and unique – unique to them and their group. It’s stuff that cannot be delivered via mass-market social media, open to everyone. It’s stuff that can only be delivered on a ‘personal’ basis – in today’s internet age, signing up to a brand’s website is personal enough.

Two things, then.

  • Social media cannot fulfil the consumer’s defining need for Free Stuff
  • Your website (and associated digital marketing) can

Why, therefore, are you wasting time, money and effort on social media?

Social Media – I’ll Tell You What They Want

So. There I was, sprawled on the couch (the grey one that used to be cream in a time Before Children) in what passes for a living room (which is, incidentally, supposed to be a Child-Free Zone, but has recently, I’ve noticed, been threatened by a slow-moving but inexorable tsunami of plastic cars, aircraft and soldiery) pondering life, t’universe and everything and waiting for the second episode of Flash Forward. 

(For those who haven’t been exposed to this meisterwerk of the television producer’s art, Flash Forward, and its cast of thousands, deals with the premise that everyone on earth suffered a two minute and 17 second blackout – at exactly the same time – during which they all experienced some sort of glimpse of their individual futures. The rest of the series, I’m presuming, will be spent finding out why, who, how and – most importantly – how to stop the future happening.)

Now, Flash Forward isn’t a bad programme, but I’m getting the feeling that Channel Five are absolutely desperate for it to achieve cult status. It’s the irritating voiceover you see. Just when you think it’s safe to sit on your sofa and watch your programme of choice, you get some voiceover lovely (on behalf of the station) telling you just how marvellous the programme is going to be. And, by implication, what a wonderful human being, a paragon of taste and style, you are for watching it. Indeed for discovering it in the first place. You are well and truly sat in one of the very frontest seats in the tip of the pointy end of the vanguard. And then Irritating Voiceover Woman starts asking rhetorical questions! As if you hadn’t noticed the f***ing kangaroo hopping down the street and the strange person in black who should have blacked out but didn’t!

Thing is, this is a blatant sales technique. It’s not adding anything to my enjoyment. It’s simply hyping something that I’ve already bought into. It is uneccesary puffery – preaching to the converted – a waste of resources. It does not bring the consumer in – in fact, speaking personally, it alienates them (me). Worst of all, it’s pitched at a very low level – I recognise it for what it is and find it mildly insulting. And if I do, then, speaking as no Einstein here, so do thousands of others. (And finally, in this instance, unforgiveably, Flash Forward ain’t no Twin Peaks – don’t even think about drawing a parallel. )

Briefly – very briefly, because I didn’t want to miss any programme (I’m terribly respectful of my audience, but I’m afraid, dear blog snorkellers, you’re not as important as Flash Forward) – I was minded of stuff I’ve read and conversations I’ve had about the nature of content. Specifically, obviously, content posted to social media by brands (companies or organisations) as part of a social media strategy.

It’s one of the main tenets of the big US argument for letting employees post to social media, without going through the PR department. As I understand it, the (US) feeling is that anything coming out of the PR department is like the Irritating Voiceover – full of needless promotional puffery, recognised for what it is, and – truth be told – slightly insulting  to the consumer. This, obviously, is not what the social media consumer wants.

Unfortunately, in their mad rush to get away from what the social media consumer doesn’t want, the social media gurus seem to have lost track of what it is that the consumer ALWAYS wants – always has done and always will do.

There’s this belief that the consumer wants a say, wants a conversation, wants to be asked questions. Well some of them probably do – and they’re the ones who are tweeting Starbucks or Facebooking Domino’s Pizza. (Is it just me or is there something rather sad and depressing about Facebooking a global pizza company?) But I’d be willing to bet that most of them don’t. From my experience, there’s one thing that consumers want from a brand (once they’re vaguely satisfied that the brand doesn’t kill babies or manufacture its products from toxic waste).

Consumers want Free Stuff. They don’t want an Irritating Voiceover – although they’ll put up with it, if there’s some Free Stuff at the end of it. They want Free Stuff, given to them in a non-threatening, non-patronising, non-strings-attached manner. They don’t want to be told they’re brilliant, they (mostly) don’t want to be asked their opinions, they don’t really want to have a say.

They want Free Stuff. And if it’s good Free Stuff, they’ll probably come back and buy it next time. The moral of the story, therefore, is:

  • PR people – stop doing irritating voiceover – be genuine, be honest and, occasionally, tell people how to get Free Stuff.
  • Social Media Gurus – stop asking for opinions, stop trying to start conversations and keep them going – acknowledge those who want to say something and tell people how to get Free Stuff.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Social Media – Effectiveness Depends on Point of View

Flicking through the pages of a PRWeek advertising supplement – it was the Corporate Affairs one – and came across an article by Colin Byrne.

(And no, contrary to what you might expect, I’m not going to have a go at these trivial exercises in self-publicity and ask why do what appear to be otherwise quite sensible people insist on perpetuating their existence by agreeing to participate and paying for the privilege. No – this time I shall demonstrate some restraint.)

The article was, in summary, about the danger to corporate reputation presented by the rise of social media and the fact that guarding against it – or being prepared to guard against it – is now a fact of business life. It also plugged a recent Weber Shandwick (Mr Byrne is CEO, UK and Europe, Weber Shandwick) study – Risky Business: Reputations Online – which I am delighted to re-plug here. Should you so wish, I am certain that Weber Shandwick will be delighted to furnish you with a copy of the study (and some salient advice to go with it), in the same way that I am certain that PRWeek will furnish you with a copy of their Corporate Affairs advertising supplement. For a small consideration.

In the article, Mr Byrne referenced the now-infamous Domino’s Pizza incident, in which a group of employees filmed themselves abusing ingredients and posted the result on YouTube. He suggests, rightly, that ‘reputation assassins in their many shapes and forms are hard at work out there and the real test is how the incident is subsequently handled’.

So far, so good. A description of Domino’s response follows – apparently ‘instead of issuing press releases and back-pedalling to limit the reputational damage, Domino’s released an apologetic YouTube video response featuring company president Patrick Doyle, and set up a Twitter page to answer customer queries’.

Thing is, blog snorkellers, Mr Byrne seems to think this is a good response.  Now, I could be misinformed and my memory could be playing tricks, but as I remember it, it took Domino’s an unconscionable amount of time to do anything at all about the incident – whether on social media or otherwise – and this delay was not seen as a good thing.

Regardless of whether that is the case or not – the incident, which started out on YouTube, rapidly went mainstream and (given that not everyone is plugged into social media, and not everyone has internet access) many thousands of people will have heard about it via broadcast and print without ever having seen the offending film.

By not issuing a press release (hell – I’d have gone further and taken out some tactical ads) and restricting themselves to Twitter (4,412 followers) and Facebook (312,645 fans), Domino’s missed a chunk of their audience, and only semi-addressed the issue. This is the problem with taking the ‘social-only’ route, or giving undue prominence to social in the communications mix. It doesn’t work in isolation. Can’t.

So – the Domino’s issue. Same incident. Same response. Different views on it and – therefore – different views on the effectiveness of social as a whole. Take your pick.

(By the way – the last comment on the Domino’s Facebook page reads “EWWWWWWW THE NEW SALAMI AT DOMINOS IS FUCKING SHITHOUSE. IT TASTES LIKE SOMEONES ARSE!!!!!!!YUCK YUCK YUCK YUCK YUCK YUCK YUCK.” Makes you wonder why they bother. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion – but I think I’d rather gather it through customer research, myself.)

Social Media – More on Corporate Social Media Use and Policy

Just as I’m seeing chinks of light – OK, maybe social media can be used in localised and focused fashion to boost the fortunes of smaller concerns (see here, no apologies for linking you to the US and all that goes with it, we have a special relationship, get used to it), although I’m still a bit fuzzy on the bit that gets the punter to the Twitter – up pop the creatures.

The post in question dates from last week and, because I know you, blog snorkellers, and you can’t be bothered to do clickety-dickety, it’s yet another take on the reasons why corporations don’t embrace social media. I am, surprisingly enough, not going to pass judgement on it – I’m going to limit myself to a few observations.

1) Employees will waste time with social media.

Yes. They will. But let’s not confuse the internet with social media. The internet is, broadly speaking, a Good Thing in the work place – a source of information and ideas that can assist the company in the achievement of its goals. Social media are simply bits of the internet, choices if you like, which may or may not be benign, and if they benefit a company only do so if approached in a planned, strategic and carefully monitored fashion. Policies on social media usage by employees should be draconian and companies are within their rights to block usage of social media sites.

2) Haters will damage our brand.

Yes. But haters will damage your brand whether or not you have a social media strategy or presence. This is about whether your brand’s any good. If it isn’t, word of mouth will damage your brand. Get it right, however, and people will like it (simple. eh?) – and no-one goes out of their way to say nasty things about a brand if it isn’t nasty. You don’t need the followers of a Twitter feed to do your crisis containment for you. Trust me, you don’t.

3. We’ll lose control of the brand

Of course you won’t. But that’s because a brand’s essence is controlled by the brand guardians, its equity is protected by law and its appearance enshrined in the brand guidelines. – not because people are talking about it on-line or off-line. Of course people talk about brands – always have done, always will do – doesn’t change the brand unless the brand guardians decide it should.

To say, however, that message control is an illusion is either laziness or a failure to grasp one of the most basic principles of corporate communications. Message control is about the messages you, the brand communicator, and your brand spokespeople, put out there. Your output, over time, should change the tone of the general chit-chat in the way you want it to. That’s message control. It takes time and effort. It is not suited to social media but, hey – if you want to be constantly at risk of being backfooted and you want to increase your investment manyfold – go ahead.

4. Social media requires a real budget! It’s not really cheap or free.

Yes, it does. No, it’s not. And as social media doesn’t deliver a quantifiable ROI and has yet to make anyone any money, just, exactly, why would you put your limited marketing budget against it? I merely ask.

5. They’re scared they’ll be sued.

And rightly so. Employees + unregulated access to social media = Risk.

6) They’re scared of giving away corporate secrets or that information on social networks will affect the stock price.

Yes, you do need to create a social media policy. But policies aren’t foolproof. The FSA (in the UK) has serious rules on disclosure – doesn’t stop people playing fast and loose with financial information, and these are professionals, not naive and untrained employees.

Some employees are hired to represent the brand and talk to customers, others are hired because they have  a specific and specialised skillset. Not all of them would be comfortable being a brand ambassador. Others suffer from a sort of corporate Tourette’s when confronted with message boards and suggestion boxes. It’s not a question of trust, it’s a question of horses for courses.

Someone actually said – and I’ve quoted it in a previous post – that the very nature of social media leads to inadvertent disclosure. Which scares the living crap out of me.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with another post. This time about a company that gets mentioned quite a lot in connection with social media (along with Starbucks, Dell, Zappo, Amazon and Dominos – always these six, strange really), Best Buy. They asked, on their Facebook group, whether they should have the Best Buy website in Spanish. Cue negative, even racist comment. (Actually, in fairness, how were they to know? But it does say something about the type of Facebooketeers attracted to Best Buy.) So what were they to do? Well, as I understand it, if you’re a social media head – a company hippy – then you join the conversation. You motivate your online community to rally to your defence.

Horsesh*t. If you’re sensible, you do exactly what Best Buy did. You pull the plug and hope that it goes away.

This is the wonder of social media – you never know what it’s going to do and whether it’s going to take a big chunk out of your bum. If it does, however, just turn it off.

Join the conversation, my *rse.

Social Media – Policies, Usage and Effects

The more links I follow, the more commentary I read, the more I am convinced that no-one has a scooby what this social media stuff means, looks like, does or is capable of. In addition – and I’ve been blogging about this for months now (and that’s a long time in social media) – the debate simply hasn’t moved on. The social media devotees are still accusing those who express doubt of being luddites, and the luddites are still arguing about what constitutes a robust social media policy.

(Dear Blogsnorkeller, if you are new to me and my meanderings, I am – I hope obviously – talking about use of social media in a business or commercial context. I have no views on use of social media on a personal, non-work-related basis. It’s a free world. Live and let live.)

Today, I’ve come across discussion of the difference between ‘policy’ and ‘guideline’  – which, admittedly, dates from March, and is in the comments on this post – and which then led me to what looked like a promising debate about what right a company has to dictate to its employees how they represent themselves when posting to social media. I’d have thought every right – but then it appears that some companies, in their attempts to formulate corporate policies, are actually trying to impose rules on their staff 24/7. Which does seem a little strange.

What troubled me was not necessarily the difference between ‘guideline’ and ‘policy’ – in my opinion, it’s quite clear, if you’re talking a set of rules that employees must abide by, then it’s a policy. ‘Guideline’ implies ambiguity – eg ‘Try to be authentic’ (real example) – and ambiguity is open to misinterpretation and misinterpretation leads to error.

No, what troubles me is that this debate is actually taking place – get a grip – social media is here now, we need to understand it, we need to legislate for it, we need to be prepared for a possible future where – if we let it – social media dictates how we do business. A free-for-all, in other words. And as long as we noodle around, playing semantics rather than seizing the tiger’s tail, the more of a headstart it will have and the less chance we have of being able to harness it for commercial ends.

Today I’ve also seen a piece on social media ROI – which, on the whole, I completely agree with – apart from the implication that there are some things that you can’t evaluate and shouldn’t try to, because they have intrinsic worth. Well, that what we said about PR for a long time – you can’t put a price on corporate reputation – and that’s why PR remains a hillbilly cousin to marketing. Listen up, social media strategists – you HAVE to put a value on this. You HAVE to find a way – if you really want social media to become a valued corporate promotional tool.

And, from the same source a bit on  why social media won’t save your business – only just relevant to this post – but I guess it’s about the effects of social media – or rather the effects that it won’t have unless you’ve got everything else right first. Remember, large organisations with poor customer service records or shoddy products, you cannot polish a turd. Aaaah, the more knowing might say, but you can roll it in Twitter.

And then, a really wishy-washy post on social media policy guidelines. (Well, that’s my opinion – you can decide for yourself.) And it makes me cross – going back to my starting point – to see that this feeble nonsense was posted in August this year. Have we gone nowhere? Is no-one prepared to nail colours to masts? What is going on that people are still talking in terms of employees ‘being treated as grown-ups, given guidelines and being trusted to do their jobs’, when this is so obviously dangerous, liberal, Utopian nonsense? (See my thoughts on ‘policy’, above.)

And finally, to reinforce the fact that we really are going nowhere, here’s a post that takes a good look at social media and attempts to get some understanding. I like this post, but – I’m afraid – I don’t really understand where it’s going and, well, the content isn’t new. (If you ignore these two things, mind, it’s quite reassuring.)

Thing is, we appear to be be stuck in a sort of internetty Groundhog Day. We’re just not progressing. Or maybe I’m not looking in the right places.

Social Media – Culturally Diverse, or Simply Take It or Leave It?

Apologies in advance – this isn’t a terribly clever post. (And we do like a bit of clever, blog-snorkellers, don’t we?)

It’s simply that I got randomly forced, like a reluctant and rather fleshy square peg into an unattractive and not-terribly-fulfilling round hole, into attending a training course recently, entitled ‘Communicating Across Cultures’. With the help of some Janets and Johns, we were introduced to the pitfalls of dealing with colleagues and stakeholders from other parts of the world, and the things we might need to think about in order to ensure that the message got across, that we didn’t mortally affend anyone and that the right outcomes were achieved. We talked about direct and indirect styles  of communication, task vs relationship focusing and egalitarianism and status as a leadership and personality styles.

Then, in direct contrast, at home, over the weekend, over a glass of wine, I watched a movie called ‘Body of Lies’. (Which gives you an insight into the sort of cultural level at which I am comfortable operating.) Said movie, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Russell Crowe, is almost an anti-course in cultural awareness. Russell Crowe is extremely effective as the senior CIA operator who – quite clearly – does not give a shit whether he offends or not, and is either self-confident enough, or deluded enough, not to care how he is perceived. At the end, however, you feel he is rather more isolated than he would like to be and, while achieving against his goals and the goals of his employer, there is something slightly pathetic and tenuous about him.

Unfortunately, I cannot help but thinking that social media is the Russell Crowe Body of Lies character. It’s heavy-handed and there’s no room for nuance. Indeed, as the province of the cyber-hippy, where we should all love each other and share everything and give peace a chance, well – there’s no need for nuance, is there?

It works well across communities and countries which share common cultural dimensions. What this will mean in practice is that the US, the UK, Australia and South Africa will be comfortable sharing a social medium, but it’s unlikely that China, or India or (perhaps surprisingly) Brazil are going to want to join them.

The thing about communicating effectively across cultures – and being successful as a business across cultures – is that it requires a basket of difefrent tools – words, attitude, behaviours and knowing which medium to use. The thing about social media is that it is one-dimensional and it brings nothing to this party.

It’s something else for the social media gurus to start working on and something else for their clients to throw money at. And I’d warrant that it’s something else that will never be resolved.

That’s the way to do it, that’s the way to do it

This is just a bit of a shout out to my homies at Morrisons (the UK supermarket chain, purveyors of splendid vittles to the masses). It’s not often that I come over all enthusiastic about things, but in this case, my hat is off and there’s a fair amount of awe in the air.

It’s simply that these people have got it so, so right. Everything working in perfect harmony. Branding, marketing (national and local), external communication, store design and layout, staff training (and therefore, I presume, staff communication). As an example, I will cite the chappie who pushed a leaflet through my letterbox recently (after having struggled up my five-mile driveway, obviously, and having avoided the guard lions). I get lots of gnolls pushing leaflets through my letterbox. This bloke was smart, energetic and he was wearing a branded t-shirt. Do you know – I actually EMPATHISED with him.

It is brilliant. I know that all of this is not, strictly, communications. This is strategic development and ops, commercial and supply, HR and finance. But the undoubtedly correct decisions that they have made have been rolled out and presented to their customer base in – as far as I’m concerned – an almost perfect manner.

I could wax even more lyrical – about their choice of brand spokescelebrity, for example, and how they’ve been used, about the idea of food poetry in store – but I won’t. This is best practice and we should all be able to learn from it.

What I would, however, like to flag up – and it’s not my field of expertise, so I’m being presumptuous – the issue of Morrison’s timing. It couldn’t have been better. Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda – is it me, or are they all a bit – well – tired at the moment? My suspicion is that they’ve been back-footed by a small player, given a lesson in reinvention, and they may, just may, be having a little panic right about now.

And all of this has translated into a really shiny results announcement yesterday – yes, the management recognised that these are interesting times for the economy, which may, interestingly, have favoured their performance, and therefore it might not be wholly sustainable, but still – a genuine result from a glow-in-the-dark performance.

And – ooooh – and (as far as I can see) not a Twitter feed in sight.

Anyway – there we are. Normal service (me complaining about stuff) will be resumed shortly.

Social Media – Sadly, Doing Nothing is Not an Option

It’s one of those horrible moments of dawning realisation, the sinking feeling of impending doom, the painful awareness that the buggers have, in fact, in some way, succeeded.

Yes, ladies and gents, fellow sceptics, I’m afraid that, like it or not, as communicators we are all going to have to embrace social media and actively do something about it. As you may know, this is a bit of a shift for me. I’ve always been of the opinion that there are far better ways of promoting your brand, company or organisation and – while you should not ignore it – social media is one of those things that you keep an eye on (watching for significant change or potential threat) with an 85% certainty that it’s a passing fad and it will go away.

(This opinion is not just something I made up in the bath, mind, it’s the result of having read all sorts of different points of view and assimilated a reasonable amount of data. Some of the latest stuff says that there are now 44.5m Twitterators globally and that, in the UK, the fastest growing age range for Twitter is the over 50s (this from Nielsen). Search the web – there’s loads of stuff – but it all (in a roundabout way) points to two things. That no-one really understands where social media is going or how to harness it and that, unless someone develops that understanding, it is (and will remain) little more than a passing fad.)

Of course, as with any new shiny object, there are those who are terrified that they’re missing out on the next big thing and there are those who feed on that terror to further their own ends. So we’ve seen the rise and rise of the ‘social media strategist’ and we’ve seen more amd more companies embracing social media strategy – some sensible, some less so. At best, you have companies creating networks of highly, trained, carefully controlled brand spokespeople (which they probably already had anyway) with a specific remit to comment on their areas of expertise through social media. At worse, you have an unseemly and dangerous free-for-all, propagated by the cyber-hippies and cyber-socialists, who believe that vox populi, vox dei and that social media is going to change the face of capitalism as we know it.

Still – and so I thought – there’s no need to have – unless you’ve got some spare people, time and budget just sloshing around – a social media strategy. Be aware of what social media is, keep up to date – but as long as your company or brand has a good corporate reputation, is reasonably ethical, fair and honest, and has a decent corporate culture (am I asking too much here?) then you’ve very little to fear and very little to gain.

Of course, there’s always going to be the odd blip, isn’t there? Damage done to corporate reputation by misguided or malicious use of social media? People (employees who are either not enrolled enough in corporate culture, or who are simply not clever enough) using social media without thought for the consequences. Dominos Pizza. Then, earlier this week, Currys and PC World (UK high street retailers). And I’m certain that there are plenty of other examples that simply haven’t attracted as much attention.

Clearly, this is nothing new. There have always been idiots who, given an opportunity to write in a comments book, or give answers to a survey, or email to a suggestion box, are suddenly overtaken by a severe case of Tourette’s. The difference is that, in the past, inappropriate behaviour was generally confined to small audiences of colleagues, or the employee’s friends and family. If it came to light, then suitable disciplinary action was taken. Now however, the Tourette’s-afflicted staff member has instant access to an on-line audience that can number tens of thousands.

So, social media has forced our hand. Doing nothing is not an option. Every company that has a reputation it wishes to protect should now be working on, and implementing , a social media policy which outlines, very clearly, what is and what is not acceptable in the workplace and when/if discussing the brand. As social media use (especially content) cannot be monitored or regulated, it should really be banned altogether in the workplace and the penalties for failng to abide by the policy should be draconian.

All well and good – but imposing a policy like this will inevitably be seen as removing the employee’s right to freedom of speech. (Mind – since when did employees have a right to freedom of speech? They turn up, they work, they get paid for it. Nothing about freedom of speech.) Social media and its soya-sandalled, hessian-draped, patchouli-doused acolytes are creating/have created an expectation of utopia – where everyone is an individual, where everyone has a voice, where the relationship is not between consumer and brand, it’s between consumer and brand employee.

Thus, for the sake of your corporate culture, for the sake of employee relations, it’s not going to be enough just to have a policy on social media usage. No, you’ll also have to have an identification and training programme for social media spokespeople, and a communication programme in place to explain to general population why they can’t post to social media sites and why the accredited spokespeople can.

In fact, you’ll have to develop a social media strategy. Luckily there are simply zillions of social media strategists out there who’ll be delighted to help you work this one out. For a simply stupefying amount of money.

On second thoughts, forget you ever read this.

As you were. Carry on.