As we all know by now, hopefully, the fastest growing communications tool is social media. According to the Pew Foundation, 65 percent of all U.S. adults use social media and 13 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
Social media refers to the use of Web-based and mobile technologies — e.g., cellphones, BlackBerries, iPhones, etc. — to turn communication into an interactive dialogue. Social media are interactive and incentivize dialogue between two or more parties. The most popular social media websites are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.
There are many benefits to using social media.
First, social media allows you to deliver an unfiltered message to your target audiences. In the past, you counted on the "mainstream media" — e.g., broadcast news, daily newspapers, radio shows — to filter your message and deliver it to their audiences. You hoped that they would report positively on your story or news, or at least that they would report bad news fairly or with balance.
Today, while working with the media remains an incredibly important strategy for delivering a credible third-party message, you have the ability to bypass them and deliver a message directly to your audiences through social media. No more waiting and hoping that the press covers you or treats you with kid gloves.
Second, social media stimulates relationships. In the past, you were hard-pressed to know how people seeing, hearing or reading your story felt about it. Today, you can get instant feedback when you post your news on your Facebook or Twitter page, or upload onto YouTube or your website. Your audience can comment and give you feedback, thus giving you a real-time focus group, albeit one that is not scientific or unbiased. You can learn quickly what stories excite followers or what postings are ignored, and pivot your strategy rapidly if necessary.
Third, social media is democratic. Everybody with an Internet-based cellphone or website connection on their iPad — let alone the "archaic" desktop computer — can participate. From the ongoing Occupy Philadelphia protest to everyday professional athletes and celebrities, folks from all walks of life and circumstance have the opportunity to communicate openly through different social media platforms.
Some great guidelines to maintaining the image you want to project include:
Transparency- You need to participate as yourself, disclose your identity and — when applicable — organization. Anonymity breeds mistrust and unidentified postings are considered not nearly as credible by customers, the media and other target audiences.
Second, understand that what you post cannot be permanently deleted. Once it's published, it's hard to perish. Once something lives online, it is often linked or "tagged" to similar content that virally spreads across the Web universe. Therefore, think before you click and don't participate when you're angry or vengeful.
Third, it's a team effort. Interacting with, or responding to peers' or friends' postings or content brings them more visibility and attention. Often, the gesture is returned in kind, thus creating a win-win scenario for both parties.
Fourth, provide relevant and valuable content. Post content that helps your audiences grow their businesses, gain insight into new trends and help them solve problems.
Fifth, be accurate. Before you click the "Post" button, make sure that the content you are about to publish is accurate. However, if you do make a mistake, be sure to post a follow-up message promptly with the correct information.
Finally, know what not to publish. Needless to say, writing personally about a colleague, speaking on your company's behalf without authorization, commenting on pending litigation or business deals, and the escapades you engaged in the night before at the local watering hole is taboo. May I remind you of the aforementioned second guideline — nothing is permanently deleted once it's posted live on the Internet.
Done the right way, engaging in social media can help bring new clients in the door, deepen existing client relationships, engender employee loyalty and ultimately bring greater value to your organization. Isn't it time for you to get in the game? •
Jeff Jubelirer is the principal of Jubelirer Strategies. He leads the development and execution of all aspects of its clients' strategic communications programs, including media relations, issue and crisis management and community relations. He also is an adjunct professor in crisis communication at Temple University.