Online Social Media and Big Brand Fear of Networks

I read one of the most thought provoking posts on social media use I have read in a long time today by Steven Hodson. I rarely if ever comment on blogs, so the fact that I nearly bored poor Steven to death with a long comment says quite a bit.


Before I go off on a slightly different tangent, entirely prompted by my reading of Steven’s thought’s, I highly recommend reading the post that started me thinking, the comments alone are enormously interesting. The primary point here will deal with one element Steven commented back at me regarding corporations and their potentially inherent ‘fear’ of social media, and I’ll answer with what I believe they can do to embrace social media – effectively.


Of course my ideas are not everyone’s cup of tea. I’ll simply start with saying that a company, or brand, needs to be somewhat proactive, and somewhat non-anally retentive (there just is no nice way of saying that) in the legal and ‘messaging control’ department if they even hope to attempt a successful foray into the socnet space in the first place.


Biggest Fear #1

“You want to WHAT? Over my bloody dead body. Do you think for one moment legal or branding will let you message at random on the internet? Do you not know about our PR requirements regarding disclosure, our editorial requirements our….*sputter**hiccough**burp**wheeze*….”


Yeah I know, over-dramatization, but you get it… and come to think of it, I actually do know of a few folks in rather big brands who would – literally – nearly have a heart-attack at the thought of engaging openly, irregularly and in an non-brand-dictated fashion online – and dare I say – it in a live PUBLIC arena. Oh, the horror…


Solution, Its actually not at all hard…

The decision makers need to understand a few salient points:


  1. Social networks are not subject to disclosure regulations.
  2. If anyone in a social network sees you using the words ‘aptitude’, ‘due diligence’, ‘decree’ or sees you using poncy typically non-social terminology in your (all of 140 characters) tweets for example, they are likely to not follow you, unfollow you, take the piss, or ignore you.
  3. It’s social; define ‘Social’: composed of sociable people or formed for the purpose of sociabilitymarked by friendly companionship with others []
  4. it’s a ‘network’; define ‘Network‘: [to] communicate with and within a group []
  5. Let’s take points 3 and 4 and define ‘Social Network’:

A web of interconnected people who directly or indirectly interact with or influence the student and family. May include but is not limited to family, teachers and other school staff, friends, neighbors, community contacts, and professional support. []


    5.  It’s ’online’; define ‘Online Social Network’:
…actually, there was no definition according to my search on Google for “define:..”, and so I asked some folks on Twitter for their thoughts. A simple, insightful and unbiased answer was simply this from @cyandle:


  • A community where you can engage with others online…

Actually, in a nutshell, that is exactly what it is; a means of getting and maintaining the attention of others online by:

  • interacting with them, 
  •  responding to them,
  • answering them,
  • collaborating with them

engaging them; but within the boundaries of what is considered to be socially acceptable, if not in the real world, then in the very real online social world where the rules may be unwritten, but they are very clear, and woe to the faint-hearted or ignorant. Yes, I’m talking to you Mr. Company.


 Can you apply these points to interacting on the social networks as a brand or corporation? YES! In 6 clear ways:

1.  Be transparent. Transparency is good, but not overtly so. Posting comments about or sending people to disclaimers and terms and conditions or privacy policies is not what it’s about.

2.  Be open to negative comments and feedback, and deal with it in a friendly, open manner. If it carries on to the point where it is affecting your profile – just stop communicating with the individual and escalate it to PR or support. You can do that in the social networks. People don’t expect anyone to be online 24 hours a day, not even a big brand due to the inherent nature of ‘sociability’. The people being social on the part of your brand are not supposed to be legal experts, they’re supposed to be real people. They may even have an account that is their own, and not a pure brand profile like @TTaxChristine.

3.  It is possible to communicate with your client base or target market as a brand profile in an open way that does not detract from your brand, breeds humor and awareness, and integrates you into the community.

4.  Forget disclosure rules and editorial limitations and realize that this is a live environment. You don’t have time to check with legal, run to brand messaging, or wait for a deploy date to get an answer out to a confused socnet member, nor to anticipate that PR control will pick up on every negative mention of the brand, or be able to thank evangelists as they mention the brand. Social networks are a powerful tool that allow you to do just that, if you give your social team the flexibility to do so, in real time.

5.  The surprise and often frank thanks of socnet members when you do reply to them in a timely manner is in many cases exceptionally rewarding. Even if they had a negative comment, the fact that the brand took the time to check, apologize, rectify or promise a rectification or pass-on to a department who will get back to them is enormously empowering for the individual, and gives them a more favorable impression of the brand than they had when they made their comment in the first place. If your company is one that never admits failure online or in public, I need to warn you that if it is real, and you don’t admit it, especially to a detractor that has raised a point, and offer a solution or apology, they are likely to have a far more negative influence on your brand than if you do, especially if they have a large following, or are popular in their selected network.

  • My 6th and final point on this topic is this; no individual, group or brand can control what is said of them online in the social networks. They cannot answer every detractor, nor build loyalty by answering every evangelist or supporter in a press release.

Thoughts for big brands to take-away…

 Give up some control corporates:

·     Hire social folks

·     Set some ground rules (no swearing, no personal brand detraction, no overt promotion of competition etc)

·     Develop some processes (which networks, when and where; where and who to escalate to for highs and lows) and let them do their thing.

·     Get a decent social network monitoring tool, just as I assume you have a reputation management tool already, even if it is just Google Alerts (check our Radian6, TruCast and TrackUR for starters).

If you let go a bit, you’ll find that the social networks will become a good place for you to interact, get feedback and most importantly collaborate with and gain trust from your core group of followers, and you will find that – if you play right – that group will grow, along with your profits.


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