ID-10053829Bloomberg Businessweek is one of my favorite titles, but I’m pretty dismayed at this article posted this week titled, Building Your Business With an Irreverent Twitter Feed. It focuses on small businesses in the UK – two taverns, and an online florist – that have employed such a strategy and have magically gained thousands of followers.

Fantastic, eh? Perhaps for those businesses and their specific objectives. But I take another view.

What about the C-suite executive of a small- to mid-size B2B or B2C brand here in the U.S. that still doesn’t get social media? (Because let me clue you in: LOTS of them out there, based on my experience.) The number of followers gained through such a strategy are potential customers, not a community to be nurtured through smart, targeted engagement. In other words, big numbers are once again a shiny object.

I can hear it now in board rooms … “I want us to be that maverick industry voice that’s a little off-center, and maybe even a little off-color. That’ll make us stand out among our competitors and get us lots of followers and Likes. Let’s make that happen.”

Ugh. But we’re not done.

Then you’ve got the actual people executing such a strategy – typically a junior-level person who knows the platforms and tools well enough, but simply doesn’t get engagement and is more qualified to fill out content calendars and pump it out into the ether. (Again, LOTS of them out there, too.) Suddenly, you’re asking them to assume an irreverent voice in dealing with followers, including customers and prospects. How far will they push the envelope?

Taken together, that’s a recipe for a crisis communication situation, and could be a potential disaster for a brand. Remember the Applebee’s fiasco from last year?

To me, there are two fixes:
1. Whomever handles social media for a brand – be it a dedicated social media team, marketing, PR or an agency – absolutely must counsel the C-suite on the implications of the choices of voice, tone and engagement.
2. Whomever handles social media for a brand must be trained in leveraging each of those.

In my experience, many brands spend zero time on Nos. 1 and 2, which is why we have so many, frankly, silly social media presences today … just a bunch of content about the brand being blasted out (or worse, sales offers) and little, if any, engagement.

(Here’s a test you can try at home. Pick 10 B2B and B2C brands and actually try to engage with them. This is a running thing I do, and results are either non-existent, or superficial.)

Whatever happened to actually building a manageable community of like-minded followers – like a tribe – that’s nurtured over time, driving them to be brand advocates online and in real life, thus influencing their sphere and driving them into the sales funnel?

Part of that is empowering the junior-level folks managing the platforms to be able to speak the same language as the community. So for example, if your company sells widgets, your community is going to use specific language to talk about not only widgets the projects they’re working on involving your widgets, so your social media personnel has to use that literal language. I see little, if any, of this.

Of course, all that thinking and training takes time – and the time it takes pales in comparison something shiny an executive might read in an influential pub like Businessweek.

This all sounds cynical; am I wrong? Let’s discuss below.

Image credit to FreeDigitalPhotos.net and contributor Basketman.

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RNXg2G-300x56First off, let me say that my heart goes out to the families of the passengers and crew of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370. This is a tragic situation, and sadly, it’s not over, even after nearly two weeks.

But I’ve been thinking about the effect on the Malaysia Airlines brand, and I tend to agree with this piece from The Sydney Morning Herald – it’s not likely to suffer long-term damage. Pinpoint alignment of crisis communication and social media is one reason, but another is the (surprising?) self-policing on its social media platforms, particularly Facebook.

Malaysia Airlines (MAS) has done all the right things in this crisis situation, expressing regret, taking action and most importantly, providing a free flow of ongoing updates about what it knows, and frankly, what it doesn’t. It’s easy to get to the latest official word from MAS at its website, and updates are both specific and transparent, noting the specific types of aircraft involved in the search and the fact that the family press briefing in Beijing yesterday apparently did not go well. There’s also a humanness to it:

“I know this rollercoaster has been incredibly hard for everyone, especially for the families. We hope and pray this difficult search will be resolved, and bring closure to those whose relatives were on board.”

But what I think is going to really help MAS is the fact that the sentiment on its social media channels is clearly in favor of the airline; it’s interesting how people of various ethnicities and religious backgrounds are posting their support for MAS, and quickly quashing those who post criticisms. Consider this post made March 15 on Facebook by a person from the UK:

“…blaming game by people who are not expert in anything but only a keyboard warrior hiding behind…… think logic la people.. if things were still in investigation, what is the need to tell the world about what they have now???? let them finish investigating…”

There’s plenty more posts like this, but the prevailing feeling is that this is a tragedy that neither MAS nor the Malaysian government could have forseen or prevented. And that’s powerful, because it’s the general public saying this, not MAS. Interestingly, it also appears MAS has chosen to limit its engagement with Facebook posters, and that may be by design, due to legalities, perhaps, or some other reason. But I also don’t think it has to, at least right now. What’s being said, and how critics are being handled, is more than effective.

To me, MAS’s social media and crisis communications approach provides a counterbalance to the rumors and – dare I say it? – conspiracy theories I’ve read about this situation. And since those things are running rampant, sticking to the gameplan is crucial.

Now … as The Sydney Morning Herald correctly points out, perception of the MAS brand could change dramatically depending on the ultimate fate of Flight MH370, and revelations of who knew what and when. God forbid that plane was hijacked, and used for some nefarious purpose. To my knowledge, that’s unprecedented in history (though I have heard of cargo ships in that part of world hijacked by pirates and repainted).

If that’s the case, wow … Communications-wise, how do you handle something that’s never happened? Let’s discuss below.

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Guest Post: It’s Business to Human Instead of H2H

February 23, 2014

Gregg note: I’ve gotten to know Megan Keathley since the turn of the year, and she’s definitely got a future in PR/social/marketing communications. She took the time to weigh in on my H2H post from earlier this month. Take a read and then weight in yourself, as I will. “It’s no longer B2B or B2C. […]

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Like Brands, Small Businesses Must Plan for Crowd Mentality Online

February 8, 2014

Behold the dark side of social media: The crowd mentality. Like brands of all sizes, small businesses that aren’t prepared for this sort of risk management this do so at their own peril – including potentially the end of their venture. Case in point: Yesterday I started seeing Facebook posts about a mommy blogger battling […]

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Gut Check: Is it REALLY H2H for Brands Today?

February 2, 2014

“There is no more B2B or B2C. It’s H2H: Human to Human.” I’ve seen this slide a lot over the last 10 days or so, and it has elicited the following response each time: Riiight. That’s heresy among some of my professional brethren, but pardon me if I see this phrase as simply a pithy, […]

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Helping C-suite, Sales “Get” Lead-Driving Value of Social Media Marketing for Brands

January 19, 2014

I had some further thoughts I wanted to share based on a post I wrote for my agency’s blog last Friday about my time at The Executives’ Club of Chicago Annual Economic Outlook. To recap: I was in a room of 1,700+ executives, and I was literally one of a handful of people (yeah, that’s […]

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Why So Many Companies Get Branding Wrong: Talk is Cheap

January 11, 2014

Why So Many Companies Get Branding Wrong. That was the bold headline that jumped out at me this morning as I was lolling in bed, surfing Feedly (of which I’ve become a huge fan and highly recommend). It was from a Bloomberg Businessweek excerpt of Steve McKee’s new book Power Branding, which is an immediate […]

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How Far Should a Brand Go to ‘Get Noticed’?

December 15, 2013

I walk past the billboard in the photo every morning on the way to work. (For my Chicago people, it’s on the northeast corner of LaSalle and Hubbard.) I had never heard of SnoreStop, a brand of products that prevent snoring manufactured by Green Pharmaceuticals, and it seemed like an odd image for such a […]

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The Power of Being Human to Surprise and Delight for Businesses and Brands

November 17, 2013

I love telling stories about businesses and brands that are human, and I’ve got a new one. Dorothy and I went to her in-laws yesterday morning for our annual job of cleaning the gutters, which accumulate a ton of leaves, branches and other matter over the course of the year. We normally both get on […]

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Hiring for Brown Shorts: The Brand as Part of the Hiring Process

October 13, 2013

For the three-plus years I’ve written this blog, the whole premise has been one simple idea, taken from the writings of Marty Neumeier: A brand isn’t what you say it is – it’s what they say it is … they being customers, supporters and the like. But remember, a brand is backed by people, and […]

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