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There were harsh lessons learned in the world of social media last year. Brands discovered that networks of people are hard to control and negative reactions can spread quickly. Some had spectacular failures in the ”social space” and many of the missteps made front-page news . The views of some that “social media is dangerous because we can’t control what people are saying” seemed to be justified. So let’s examine what really happened and how you can avoid such a fate for your brand.
Marketing and public relations communications through social media can be complicated. There are a vast number of networks and platforms, all interlinked, allowing messages to spread extremely quickly. For those not used to online communications, this can seem like a mysterious and dangerous world governed by technology geniuses and teenagers.
The people who are building and marketing these networks tend to promote this stereotype. This underlies the first element present in social media disasters – fear. This fear creates the desire to control. But it is this desire to control a vast and dynamic human network that leads to systemic failures in social media communications. You can control the software but you can’t control the way people use it.
The second and most important element in the social media equation is the messaging itself. Some brands have failed to realise that the rules have changed. For many demographics, social media is now how they discover news and messages. It is not through press releases or TV ads but through peer recommendations and online discussions.
This means brands no longer get to tell consumers what to think. Brands must now respect the individual and tell the truth.
Almost every social media disaster of the past 12 months has essentially been about honesty and integrity. People can sniff out a lie easily and will expose it. On the flip side, if a brand that has made a mistake deals with it quickly and honestly it can be turned into a positive.
Brands no longer have a choice about whether or not to take part in social media. They must engage or risk becoming irrelevant. But they must understand that people expect respect – something that doesn’t always exist in the one-way communication world.
To manage and capitalise on this new frontier you must plan well, educate your staff, develop a clear set of communication guidelines and above all, be earnest.