Social Media – Vox Populi, Vox Dei?

Those of you who’re regulars here will know my views on social media (blah, blah blah, don’t ignore it, yadayadayada, better ways of spending your money, time and effort) and you may aso have some passing awareness of how those views have got me into some small amount of trouble (mainly in the States, unsurprisingly) with those who see Social Media as the Next Big Thing, a digital messiah, a cure-all and something that will change life as we know it. (Don’t get me wrong, it might. Who knows what it might do. Ah – yes – that’s it – no-one knows what it might do. Which is the problem in grasping it with both hands too readily. It might be poisonous.)

Anyway, there’s this school of thought that says that the nature of the contract between audience and brand or organisation is changing. Has, in fact, changed. It says that the contract is now – because of social media – between the audience and the employees of the brand or organisation. That you should mobilise your workforce. That you should allow your employees free access to social media, to post on your brand/organisation’s behalf.

What the school of thought is saying, in summary, is ‘vox populi, vox dei’. Now, as any fule kno, if vox populi, vox dei, then the devil’s in the detail. But it goes further than that. The quotation ‘vox populi. vox dei’ is but part of a larger quotation:

“Nec audienti sunt qui solet docere, ‘Vox populi, vox dei’; cum tumultuositas vulgi semper insanitas proxima est.”

The literal translation of this is: “Do not listen to those who are accustomed to teach [claim], ‘The voice of the people is the voice of God’, because the tumult of the masses is always close to insanity.”

I rest my case, m’lud.

Social Media – The Dawning of a New ‘New Age’?

Got into a bit of a debate recently, as avid followers of this, the blog that not-very-many people read, will know. It was all about the possibly fatal, and definitely barking, madness of letting the general population of employees of a company post to social media sites in an unregulated and unmonitored stylee. To summarise, I’m against it, some people are for it. Apparently, Ford and Coke (well, their social media marketing types) are for it.

Anyway, the debate shifted slightly and became more about trusting your employees to be brand ambassadors and being less controlling of how they do it. Apparently, as long as your people are honest, at least slightly personable and proud of what they do, then other people – your audiences – will know. And if the company is made up of people like this, then they will know. And it will be the sort of company that they want to deal with. This put me in mind of something else I read recently, which said (I’m paraphrasing) that in future consumers (public, audiences) will not have a contract or relationship with the company or the brand – instead they will have it with the company or brand’s employees.

Is it just me, or is this hopelessly Utopian? Am I getting a whiff of hessian and patchouli here? Are people actually trying to tell me that if we’re all nice to one another, then we’ll all be happier and more successful? Am I being told – in point of fact – to ‘give peace a chance’?

It’s worrying. Am I too close to the whole social media debate, and thus seeing nuances and blowing them out of proportion or, in fact, are we seeing the dawn of a new ‘New Age’ created by social media and the fact that people, all over the world, are happily and politely interacting with complete strangers.

And because, in the main, their interaction with complete strangers is good, and informative and polite and safe, they’re lulled into thinking that a) this good, informative, polite safety extends into other walks of life (it doesn’t – West Ham v Milwall anyone?) and b) if there was more of it, and if people embraced it, then life would be better and all our problems would go away.

The rise of the cyber-hippy?

You know what John Lydon said – never trust a hippy.

Social Media – Come Connect With Me

Came across a blog this week – all about social media, social media usage, social media marketing, written by one o’ they new-fangled social media marketing strategy gurus.

At the end of it, he signed off by saying “connect with me on: Twitter, Jaiku, LinkedIn, Tumbir, Pownce, Plaxo, Friendfeed or Facebook’.

J*sus H Chr*st, I thought. Who knew there were so many social media sites? (Well, maybe you did, but I’d never heard of Jaiku, Tumbir or Pownce.) Do we need this many? Is it sustainable? What’s the difference between them? How can you keep up with all of them and have any sort of life?

My suspicion is that they’re little more than the result of the social media doughnut being sliced ever-more thinly in order to stretch it out and make it last a little longer.

And the other thing, of course, is – well – that much social media presence. It’s a bit needy, isn’t it? Smacks of real desperation.

Internal Communications – Here Be Debate!

This is a follow-up to the post in which I suggested that it would be an act of near-criminal lunacy to advocate (like Ford and Coke seem to be doing) giving employees of large organisations the freedom to post to social media sites, without any corporate control. (I’m paraphrasing.) Anyway, here’s another reply:

“Yes, employees need to be briefed. And the article you quote ( states that they will be trained! So I don’t see the idea of letting trained, briefed, hand-picked employees interact with customers on the company’s behalf as a dangerous one.

 Can you imagine someone trying to Tweet on behalf of the company, answering customer service complaints/queries, etc. and having to go to PR for approval of every tweet? No – you pick the right person to tweet and train them so they understand the limits of what they can say and when to get help from PR/Legal, if things get nasty or something big happens. You’re talking about responding to a lot of “I like coke better than pepsi” “why does BK serve Pepsi and not Coke” types of tweets.

 Also, the Domino’s example is one where employees weren’t tweeting or videoing on behalf of the company. Running all official Dominos Tweets and posts through PR wouldn’t have stopped it. And certainly, this was a crisis situation and professionals handled it – I don’t think Dominos let just anyone respond on the company’s behalf.

 I see the Domino’s case as an example of how easy it is for what’s happening internally (especially the bad stuff) to go public, rather than a reason to try and stop employees from talking about work. And I don’t believe it’s possible for a company nowadays to maintain 100% control of messages that go public.

 One of my favorite reads is the Authentic Enterprise report by the A W Page Society:

Talks about how the walls are dissolving and what a company says externally has to match the way they really are internally – authenticity is key to success. This means trusting employees and moving away from pure command and control.

 Last thought: social media is conversational and personal. An individual needs to post – imagine if a company ran an ‘official’ Twitter stream with no person’s name, only press releases and ‘we’re so great’ messages. It would be a flop and would turn people off. The companies seeing a positive response to their efforts are those who let the customer service rep/pr person/exec be themselves and talk about the company (within a set of guidelines).

 My twenty cents!”

Great reply – and worth responding. 

The WSJ article actually says ‘some companies are training staffers to broaden their social media efforts’ – this is journalese for ‘I’m about to introduce two examples of companies that have told me they’re going to start letting their employees post to social media’. The companies themselves – Ford and Coke – talk more in terms of ‘teaching employees how to use sites’ and ‘authorizing’ employees to post without recourse to the company’s PR staff. This does not automatically imply training programmes for nominated Tweeters and posters – and in any case, when you’re messing with a company’s reputation, even if someone has been trained, you still monitor what they do very closely. Hence briefing documents, position statements and Q&A documents every time a senior executive speaks to the media (common practice in the majority of listed companies).

The whole Customer service scenario described is, I believe, discrete from the plans of Ford and Coke. Customer Service staff normally have sheets of pre-prepared responses which they use (reactively) to answer general complaints and queries and they never stray from the script. If I’ve read the WSJ article correctly, what they’re talking about is allowing staff to be active in their use of social media – not responding to general enquiries, but posting their thoughts, opinions and commentary. This is very different, fraught with danger and would require a whole different type of training/preparation. It could be argued that one cannot train someone to post to social media – you’re talking about delicacy, sensitivity, social awareness etc etc – arguably stuff that you cannot teach.

 As for the Dominos example – the only way to have stopped that happening would have been to have had a policy in place which says Dominos franchisees and their employees do not post Dominos-related material on social media. Any franchisee or employee found in breach of the policy will be fired. Simple and – once you make a couple of examples, pour encourager les autres – highly effective. You’re right, it’s impossible for a company to be 100% in control of the message – but there are ways that the company can get close to it.

I totally agree that the external perception of the company has to reflect the internal reality – but giving employees freedom to post to social media is not the way to achieve this. A good internal comms programme – enrolling employees in the corporate goals and ethos and allowing them to understand why the messages are controlled, what the potential issues are and what the effects could be – is.

I’m afraid that trusting employees to do the right thing is a beautiful idea, but in the real world it cannot work – not because they are inherently untrustworthy, but because they are human and therefore fallible. Even letting them operate ‘within a set of guidelines’ doesn’t work – guidelines are open to interpretation and – therefore – misinterpretation.

I read somewhere recently that in today’s web-based society, a consumers’ relationship is no longer with the company or its brand, but with the company’s employees. I fundamentally disagree with this. The role of a company and its brands is to make money – for its owners, shareholders and employees and, through them, for the country/countries in which it is based. This is capitalism, this is the way of the world – let’s not get it confused with the new New Age that seems to be arising from the social media phenomenon.

Internal Communications: Freedom of Speech? You Cannot be Serious.

Now, please tell me what is wrong with the quotation below. (And I’m not talking about spelling or syntax, smartarses, I’m talking about content).

“Some companies are training staffers to broaden their social-media efforts. At Ford, Mr. Monty plans to soon begin teaching employees how to use sites like Twitter to represent the company and interact with consumers.

 Coca-Cola Co. is preparing a similar effort, which initially will be limited to marketing, public affairs and legal staffers. Participants will be authorized to post to social media on Coke’s behalf without checking with the company’s PR staff, says Adam Brown, named Coke’s first head of social media in March.”

This is from the Wall Street Journal – an article already mentioned on this blog – which witters on about how companies are using social media (specifically Twitter) to do something. I’m not sure what. On the face of it – to waste time, resource and budget. But hey! Maybe it’s just me.

But that’s not what this is about. (For once.) No, this is about the wisdom of letting your employees have free and uncontrolled access to the media which, in effect, is what the good people at Ford and Coke are thinking of doing.

Are they completely insane? As we all know, your people are your greatest asset and your greatest liability. As ambassadors for your brand and product, there is nothing more powerful than a vociferous and loyal employee – and here’s the important bit – that has been well-briefed and is on-message.

This is why internal communications departments exist – to generate that loyalty, to bring the workforce on-board, to maintain motivation and momentum – to ensure the messages that are going out are consistent and in line with company strategy and policy. This is why internal comms works hand-in-glove with external comms – and why all messages go past the external comms (PR) department – because anything said by anyone about your brand or business can impact on reputation. And it’s your reputation that you trade on.

In no company or organisation that I know do employees get to comment publicly, to an external audience (and I’m not talking mates down the pub, here) without being carefully briefed and monitored. In fact, in many companies and organisations, it is more than their jobs are worth for them to do so. Why? Because not everyone is as sensitive to the message and to reputation as those employed as guardians of reputation and, time and time again, through simple error of judgement, or naivety, or malicious intent, employees’ comments and actions in a public arena bring a company into disrepute. And then you have a crisis, and then you have some shit to shovel.

Example? Dominos Pizza (apologies, because I’ve used this example before, but – damn – it’s a good one) and the posting, on YouTube of video footage of unhygienic practices, in a Dominos franchise, by employees.

You simply do not allow employees free rein. You don’t. It is accepted.

Then along come the social media strategists. “It’s all about content, it’s all about dialogue, it’s all about the quality of the conversation” – free spirits in the digital age. Not for them the rules of the old guard – no, the rise of the internet and FaceBook and Twitter has changed the world and we must move on or wither and die.

It appears that their lobbying – and the continuing spread of Shiny Object Syndrome – has convinced even the most conservative of organisations (Coke, anyone?) that they should be allowed to let employees post directly to the social media sites, without passing the sense/health check that is the PR department.

I know – if anyone ever reads this (hello?) – that I’ll be accused, as a PR professional, of being miffed that I’ve been edged out of the frame and that stuff is going on without me.

Maybe. But I think this is a disaster waiting to happen. Time will tell. Personally I hope there’s someone in both organisations (Ford and Coke) who remembers what the real role of a corporate communicator is, and is powerful enough to perform it.

The real role of a corporate communicator is to look at stuff like this and say ‘no fucking way’. And put a stop to the stupidity immediately.

Social media: Preposterous before…er…Posterous came along?

Apparently sane person is asked what they consider to be the ‘next big thing’ in social media. (Actually, scratch that ‘apparently sane’ bit – anyone who’s in a position to be asked what they consider to be the blah blah blah is obviously several tweets short of the full nest.) And this person named three potentials – Foursquare, Brightkite and Posterous and another one the name of which I simply couldn’t be arsed to remember which wasn’t, after all, a ‘social medium’ in the true sense, more a CMS. Which, therefore, doesn’t really make it eligible to be the new Twitter. Even I know that.

Anyway, given that I’ve already had a look at Brightkite some time ago and felt that it really had very little to offer (well, it didn’t, go and look for yourself), I thus had two to choose from and I chose Posterous.

Now. If something had been touted to you as the next big thing in social media, you’d expect it to be a bit special, wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you? Or is it just me? Yes, of course you would. Well, here it is:

And no, don’t bother, because it isn’t.

Maybe it is me. Maybe I’m missing something. I read another post this morning about the wonderful world and uses of Twitter and how big companies like Dell and Pepsi and Coke…………………hold on a cotton-picking moment. Aren’t they the same three companies that are ALWAYS mentioned whenever someone wants to demonstrate how social media has been used to corporate advantage? Are there no other examples?

I can only draw one conclusion. And it’s the same one. Social media and social media marketing are another minor royal with no clothes on. Not even an Emperor, more a Duke of somewhere not-terribly-important. Posterous – and the acqusition of Friendfeed by Facebook are nothing more than the desperate attempts of those who are making a living from the chimaera to string that living out for a little longer.

Tell me I’m wrong.

Social Media – A Tweet in Time….er….

Some more happy horsedroppings, this time from that venerable organ, the WSJ. Read it here.

On first glance this all seems fine – big names – Ford, Pepsi, Coke etc etc etc – all got a social media presence, all got social media teams, must be important.

Then delve down a bit.

So Ford found that people were complaining about the shutting down of a website. C’mon guys. So what. Is this actually going to affect sales of your cars (because that’s what, as an auto manufacturer, you’re all about and don’t you forget it). No, it’s not. Therefore, all the time that your people spent ‘rectifying the situation’ was, in fact, time wasted.

So Coke found that some guy with 10,000 followers was having difficulty reclaiming a promotion. They fixed it for him. He chaged his avatar to a picture of him with a bottle of Coke. Hot-diggety-dog-dump and a big fat whoop-de-do. Did it sell more Coke? Probably not. Did it impact on this guy’s 10,000 followers? Probably not. Why? because most of those followers don’t actually exist or, if they do, aren’t active. See the link below:

So, Coke, all that time your people spent sorting it out? Wasted.  In fact, the WSJ article is just plain wrong, on many, many different levels. Not least of which is that it reveals that these companies have such desperate cases of Shiny Object Syndrome that they are lashing undoubtedly obscene amounts of money on the salaries and benefits packages of entire teams of ‘social media strategists’.

C’mon. Facebook and Twitter (there’s another thing wrong with this article – gives it the lie in fact – these are the only two social media mentioned) are passing fads. There’s no burgeoning new comms/marketing world being signalled by social media/online social networking. It’s a chimaera. It doesn’t exist – and neither, therefore, does ‘social media strategy’ or, indeed, ‘social media strategists’. Waste of money and several perfectly good workstations.

As an aside, I saw that Dominos Pizza were speaking at a conference recently – one of those that hapless comms and marketing people like us pay oodles of cash to go to on the off-chance we might learn something. And they were there to talk about the issues around employees posting uncontrolled video footage on YouTube and other social media. Talk about shutting the door after the horse had buggered off – and what did anyone think they were going to learn from Dominos, anyway. I was amazed.

Finally for today, may I express my dismay that the digital/social media strategists employed, at great cost, by Coke, appear to have managed to get permission for a group of people to post to social media sites (probably FaceBook and Twitter – as the only ones that anyone really knows) without going through the PR department. Someone could do with talking to Dominos, now I think about it.

I love the smell of impending disaster in the morning, it smells of – hmmm – Meat Feast?  Or is it random brown sugary liquid? I’m not sure………..

Social Media – The Twitter Crack’d 3

Some more research into Twitter and its usage patterns. It’s still not looking compelling, I’m afraid.

Social Media – The Twitter Crack’d 2

Those avid followers of my blog (thanks, both of you), with a decent memory, may remember a post back in June which highlighted – actually, that’s a bit grand – which focused on a piece of research done by the Harvard Business School into Twitter’s usage patterns. It seemed to show that the bulk of tweets come from a hardcore of twitterers (95:10 was the ratio, I think) and that average numbers of tweets during the lifetime of a twitterer is one.

This kinda leads us to believe that Twitter’s not really the massive phenomenon that other media – and the rash of ‘social media experts’ that has infected the face of the internet – would have you believe and – thus – it’s a bit rubbish as a marketing tool. As I’ve often said, don’t ignore social media – you’d be foolish to do so – but bear in mind that there are countless other things that you should do first (from a comms and marketing point of view).

Anyway, here’s another nail in the coffin piece of research that would seem to lead us to similar conclusions, although for different reasons. Enjoy: