Old rules still apply with social media, along with new

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While they have recognised social media is now essential in communications programs, corporate organisations are slow to understand that new rules apply and that some old ones have increased importance.

Think before you tweet

Social media demands an instant response which doesn’t always go hand in hand with a thoughtful approach.  What’s said on social media can also come back later and haunt the sender.

Deleting embarrassing tweets, blogs, Facebook entries or whatever, doesn’t mean they’ve been removed everywhere, and they can still be lurking in the ether somewhere, ready to be aired later.

Indeed an industry seems to be developing simply to remind the world of what people tweeted in the past compared with their most recent comments or beliefs.

President Trump’s tweets are very good examples of this, and almost daily there is commentary showing that what he claims as policy today is at odds with categorical statements he made in the past.

Who should respond

The danger of CEOs’ first response to social media activity not being thought through has also been highlighted recently.  The United Airways disaster, when a passenger was dragged from a plane to make way for an employee, is a good example of this communications mistake.

In the circumstances, perhaps he was the best person to respond, but there is an argument for  having someone else make the initial response in social communications to see where the conversation is going and how else the company should react, if at all.

Whether it is the CEO or not, what is said needs to relate to what has gone before and in appropriate language, and the “who, how, when, and what” needs to be given a lot more thought rather than a knee jerk reaction.

Watch the language

While we’re on about United Airlines, CEO Oscar Munoz’s response to the social media coverage shows how language on social media plays a critical role.  It needs to be remembered that it is “social media” not “Management Speak 101”.

When apologising for “re-accommodating these customers” the wrong language is used by Mr Munoz.  The content and style suggests he didn’t seem overly concerned about the way one of the airline’s passengers was manhandled.  Indeed, by making an inappropriate response the problem escalated unnecessarily.

While the company may well have had a public relations specialist draft the first response and overall strategy, the language used didn’t seem that of a communications expert.  It was much more management-speak than the easy to understand, persuasive English that consumers would relate to.

Involve specialists

CEOs and boards are generally happy to have communication advisers go over announcements before they are made, or come up with a first draft of most public statements, including media releases, speeches, stock exchange announcements, employee circulars and the like.

So why not tweets and other social media to get them right as communications?  Tweets may be short, but these days, when they are used by corporations they are just as important as all other company communications.

The United response also fails the “Is what we’re saying more important to us than to them?” test – the CEO seemed much more focused on damage to the company rather than giving a heartfelt and persuasive apology.  Would a communications expert have advised a different approach?  I’d like to think so.

Everyone’s a reporter

Organisations need to understand that any drama that affects them and is played out in public (again, like the United Airways episode) is odds-on to end up on social media.  Crisis plans need to take this into account.  Events that once had a very small chance of being widely reported are now extremely likely to be picked up as an issue because of social media and mobile phones.  Badly handled, they can become a crisis.  Ask United, they have had a lot of experience lately.  An organisation’s Crisis Plans need to reflect the social media phenomenon .

Social media today, mass media tomorrow

A story going viral the way the United manhandling a passenger story did is only the beginning.  It would seem every international and national news outlet in the world then reported the story and showed the pictures posted by other passengers.

For example, in Australia we saw it on TV, heard it on the radio, and read about it in the national press for a couple of days following the event. This was repeated throughout the world.  Much of this coverage could have been avoided, or at least significantly reduced, if the first statement was better.  As it was, the follow up statements were also reported, extending the coverage that reused the damning videos taken by passengers on their phones.

Even weeks later, stories about United Airways showed the initial social media video clips.

Controlling announcement

Unless they have been very thorough in incorporating the impact of social media in their policies and procedures, organisations can face situations where their own news is reported before they announce it.

Take a simple example – an organisation that is expanding its operations may develop a timetable to announce the new appointments it is making to lead the new initiative.  However, if it hasn’t made it clear to the new hires that their appointments are part of a wider communication plan, it may find it has been scooped by one of the new executives posting his or her appointment on Facebook or LinkedIn.  Once it’s on social media, it could then be seen by a journalist “friend” twice removed who reports it in a trade magazine, destroying the impact the organisation wanted to make with key clients or other stakeholders.

Spotlight heightens awareness

Another aspect to the point above is that social media adds focus on an event that might otherwise go unnoticed.  Some of United’s woes are examples of this but even a simple and fairly routine event like a key executive a company can now become a bigger problem.  Prior to social media it might have gone unnoticed for a while, by which time journalist could lose interest.  With social media, an individual’s, or even third party’s LinkedIn or Facebook posting at the time of the departure can add immediacy, and therefore news value, to trade press or business columnists, and become an embarrassment to an organisation.