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May 6, 2010
Don't Shackle Social Media

A good place to follow corporate America's efforts to come to grips with social media apparently is Slate's blog, "The C-Tweet, Social Media Meets the Boardroom."

Evidently, social media isn't being handled systematically by companies you would think would have the resources and motivation to get it right. In one post, blogger Matthew Yeomans cites these findings of a Burson-Marsteller report:

"We found that each of these tools is being used extensively not only by corporate headquarters but also by local market offices, various divisions of the company and for one-time corporate events. To this extent social media is providing great benefits and opportunities by helping different niches of a company reach their target audiences. But, it is also introducing challenges by creating mixed messages and tones and by leaving abandoned Twitter accounts and Facebook fan pages which may be detrimental to the brand."

"Simply put," Yeomans sums up, "Fortune 100 seems to understand the importance of social-media engagement, but many of these companies lack the strategy, coordination, and internal resources to build beneficial customer relationships."

He cites (while not identifying) one big company  whose marketing department "finally persuaded its legal department to let it start a Twitter account." But nobody in marketing knew how to use Twitter, so it asked its external PR agency to write the tweets. The PR agency had never used Twitter, so marketing asked its digital agency to publish them. "But before the digital agency could publish anything, each tweet had to be signed off by – you guessed it! – legal."

This sort of travesty can be avoided if companies take corporate communication -- and its  professional requirements -- seriously, at least as seriously as they take the need for effective legal advice. A company needs to be well-aligned to communicate well. It's vision, interests, and messages need to be clear to its executives and communicators -- tweeters, bloggers, media relations, and public affairs people, whomever they may be. 

Then a management that is well-prepared to communicate needs to stand back and let its communicators do their jobs, realizing that everyone is functioning on behalf of the same system, providing there is a system in the first place. That's what being well-prepared requires. 

Yeomans notes that when the first test tweet went to legal in the unidentified company he cites, "the 140 character message was returned with a 100-character legal disclaimer attached!"

This is pitiful. Don't let anything like it happen in a corporate setting that purports to be serious about doing social media well. Equip communicators with knowledge, messages, and insights and let them communicate, seriously and well. Executives need to understand that the public arena can get messy, but it needs to be treated forthrightly nonetheless.

In short, don't put social media in shackles! 






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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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