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March 5, 2010
Reputations at Light Speed

Social media is showing that companies need to be living not on the edge of their publics, but in the midst of them. That is, consumers aren't waiting so much for the media to advise them about corporations or personalities, as sharing impressions of them together -- for good or ill -- on Twitter, Facebook YouTube and other social media channels. 

To assume it's smooth sailing for your corporate or personal brand (because it's not yet) in headlines or on TV news screens can be an ominous mistake.

Dallas Lawrence, chair of the Social and Digital Media Practice at Levick Strategic Communications, a leading crisis communications firm, discusses monitoring reputations at light speed in a timely Mashable post.

He cites Toyota, Johnson & Johnson, and Tiger Woods as recent examples of laggard approaches to brand management. Each made "sloppy" responses to the spread of online information threatening their reputations. 

"The good news," Lawrence says, "is that by understanding how online crises can be transformed into trust-building opportunities, companies and high-profile individuals can avoid repeating the grave mistakes of 2009 (and already in 2110). There continue to be teachable moments in abundance. ..."

"In the age of digital crises, big does not mean savvy. Indeed, the bigger the brand, the harder it often falls."

Too many companies are keeping their social media practitioners, if they have them, "walled off" from their brand managers. Toyota, Lawrence notes, has more than 81,000 Facebook fans but "simply failed to utilize that immense resource during the first days of its recalls."  

Three decades after its exemplary response on Tylenol tampering, Johnson & Johnson laid itself open to a tardy response to consumer concerns on Tylenol Arthritis Pain caplets. Tiger Woods, of course, has seemed hapless in his personal crisis.

"In today's world," Lawrence notes, "every brand has a plug. When it's pulled, the balloon can instantaneously deflate."  

Twitter, he adds, is the most rapid spreader of information on just about anything, including corporate and personal fortunes. 

"Penn State’s College of Information Science and Technology," he writes, "found that 20% of the 27 million tweets posted each day mention brands in one way or another. Yet only 20% of Global Fortune 100 companies have a comprehensive social media plan that includes a presence on each of the major social media hubs, and just over a third still don’t even have Twitter accounts."

In my own former industry, nuclear power, I'm wondering how many plant operators are following AREVA's example of having a Twitter stream. It's mistaken to feel you'll respond if there's a crisis, and the best thing to do is run the plants so there won't be one.

Sure, run them well, but don't forget that people may be talking about you online anyway at any time for just about any reason, accurate or not. You need to be there as part of the conversation. 




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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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