I was having lunch the other day with the VP of Marketing of a technology company that offers mobile services to consumers. I asked him how many people he had in Marketing. His answer: in addition to himself, he had two people–a business development person and a social media person.
Not an events person. Not an in-house writer, or a Web guru per se. Not a PR person. A social media person. For his market, this choice makes sense. And it’s an indication of how the world of business communications is changing.
Tim O’Reilly is right: the Web has become a platform. For a growing number of markets, the conversations taking place on blogs, in email, in forums, and in IM services like Twitter are vitally important. Companies need to monitor these channels, and, of course, they need to actively participate in them.
As social media becomes more ubiquitous and influential, seemingly at the expense of traditional outbound communications, it’s natural to how in-house marketing teams and PR firms need to evolve in order to complement traditional PR and public outreach with effective social media analysis and strategies.
Social media represents a great opportunity for businesses, because it brings them closer to customers. When a customer mouths off on Twitter or posts a difficult question on a forum, a business gets an unprecedented opportunity to learn what customers are thinking. Because the conversation is taking place on the Web, rather than over a telephone line, large numbers of people in the business can listen in—everyone from technical support all the way up to the CEO. Such convenient, continuous, and widespread access to customer conversations is unprecedented.
A business dedicated to serving its customers can respond promptly, helping the customer and demonstrating to everyone (both inside and outside the company) listening, watching, or reading that the business serves its customers well.
That’s assuming, of course, that everything goes right.
What are the traditional problems that PR firms and messaging experts address? One of them is word-smithing or better yet thought-smithing: honing a company’s ideas and words so that it really says what it means to say, and says it concisely and effectively, given all the hype and chatter of the marketplace.
The requirement to use language aptly doesn’t disappear with social media. Instead, it becomes more pressing. Suddenly, lots of people are speaking publicly for the company. They’re speaking not only at conference lecterns but in chat rooms and Twitter and forums and email. Obviously, the last thing a company should do is force-feed its employees scripts crafted by PR people for “spontaneously” addressing customer needs. Twitter conversations require a human touch and spontaneity, and no PR firm should ever try to quash that. But it doesn’t hurt–in fact, it’s really essential–that all employees communicate consistently, that they don’t contradict each other, that their manner, however conversational, is appropriate and humane, and that what is said in the forum is consistent with what is said on the home page.
Social media represents three great opportunities for business, and two of them involve messaging.
- It’s a way to serve customers promptly and efficiently.
- It’s a way to hear from customers directly what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s confusing about what the company is promising.
- It’s a way for a company to spread its ideas in tens, hundreds, or even thousands of little conversations each day.
PR firms have a role to play here; they would be serving their customers poorly to ignore it. The role includes helping customers really listen to their customers and identify trends and problems that occur repeatedly in the myriad social media conversations. And the role also includes ensuring that when employees speak through social media, they reinforce, rather than contradict, the company’s main story.
“Markets are conversations,” wrote the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto. Social media makes those conversations more spontaneous and dynamic than ever before, at least for large businesses. The opportunity, now, is to make the most of the conversations–to learn as much as possible from customers, and to speak to them honestly, clearly, and consistently. PR and strategic communications firms can help. The emphasis shifts from older outbound communications channels to newer two-way communications channels, but usefulness of counsel on ideas and language remains the same.
This is our first blog post on our new Prequent Web site. The world of business communications is changing, and so are we. We’re adding new capabilities to our firm in the area of social media strategy and social media monitoring. We’re also strengthening our writing capabilities, because no matter how many conversations are taking place on Twitter, businesses still need Web copy, white papers, and other clearly written explanations of what they do and how they do it.
Questions? Comments? Requests? We’d like to hear from you.
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