February 21, 2017
Also covered in the FTI Journal, February 2017.
More and more companies are utilizing the vast array of social media networks to get their messages out to the public. So why is Corporate Communications so skittish about hopping on the bandwagon?
It’s hard to believe there was once a time when Corporate Communications departments balked at creating a company website. Back in the dial-up days (and even earlier), the idea of sharing corporate news on an always-on, consumer-facing electronic platform would have been considered a dubious use of resources. You want to know about company doings? We’ll mail you the sales and marketing reports.
The world has come a long way since then. Today, a company without a corporate website essentially doesn’t exist. And yet, many Corporate Communications departments still drag their feet when it comes to fully embracing the digital era. At a time when multiple social media channels and platforms offer the ability to steer reputation and reach mass audiences, some corporations still cling to old-school methods like static websites and yes, even press releases. That raises a simple question: why?
It’s time for Corporate Communications to take a page or two, or three, from their sales and marketing departments — and join the digital age.
Over the past ten years or so, social media platforms YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn have become standard communication tools for sales and marketing, as well as customer service, to engage with the public. By one estimate, about 88% of companies in the U.S. make use of social media for marketing purposes.
More recently, Snapchat, the multimedia-messaging app in which messages self-destruct shortly after being received, has exploded in popularity and emerged as a legitimate delivery tool as well. It has more than 100 million daily active users, and even played a key role in candidate messaging during the 2016 U.S. Presidential campaign.
Social media allows companies to communicate directly with consumers and clients instantly in a variety of content styles — all at the same time. Want to broadcast quarterly earnings? Twitter’s 140 characters is a good starting place. Share a clip of the CEO ringing the opening bell on the NASDAQ? Try a Facebook Live video feed. In each case, companies can use the mediums to direct users to the full story behind the messaging on the corporate website.
Social media serves an audience hungry for information anytime, anywhere. It increases the opportunity for more frequent communication, and it breaks Corporate Communications out of the outmoded one-way broadcast street left over from the press release era. It opens up a two-way dialogue — something engaged social media users expect.
What’s holding Corporate Communications back from hitting the send button more often? For one thing, there is the seeming complexity of a true omni-channel model. As companies contemplate making greater use of the various platforms, the number of decisions surrounding the quality and frequency of messaging can be overwhelming. It’s easy to get caught up in debating what company presence should look and sound like on a quick-hit, minute-to-minute feed like Twitter, a thought leadership platform like LinkedIn, and an image-driven, disappearing messaging app like Snapchat. Designating tone of voice across each is undoubtedly a challenge.
Managing corporate reputation — or more precisely, commercial influence — across media and social channels, online and off, is tricky for all the reasons stated above. Yet every day, companies already handle sensitive stakeholder interactions across multiple channels, quite competently: customer service, marketing/sales and branding functions all use diverse social media channels as well as a variety of content and analytics to support the way they engage with customers and partners.
So, why doesn’t this happen more frequently on an integrated basis at the corporate, vs. the customer/product/brand level? “Why” may not, in fact, be the right question at this point. Instead, we should ask, “Why not?” The top of the corporation, and its communications functions, remain the “face” of an organization — and the locus of that organization’s responsibilities when it comes to policies, capital allocation, legal liability, governance and management.
Yet today, much the same way many companies refused or failed to see the value in websites 15-20 years ago, too many corporations fail to see the degree to which a static, seldom-changing website; classic press releases; and siloed one-way outreach keep them off the grid and unable to actually shape their information environment.
In fact, a sharp understanding of risk argues that the current communications environment comprising all these channels is itself a much bigger risk than the seeming complexity of operating consistently across channels — for every company, at every moment, from every stakeholder.
In other words, historically Corporate Communications departments have framed risks in terms of what information gets put into their internal and external environments. Channels, and/or media were options for managing that risk. Today, with a nearly endless array of platforms and channels, all of which are easily used by individuals to express opinions and share information any time, it’s not just information that presents a risk. The environment itself, for every company, is inherently higher risk — because it’s higher velocity, more accessible and more complex than ever. Another huge risk: not having the right mechanisms, procedures, strategies and content in place to impact that environment.
At a time when a company’s success or failure can hinge on public perception, getting social media right is essential. Being smart and strategic upfront is the starting point — and defining a set of key digital and content competencies aimed at the responsibilities above, as opposed to just products and service, is the second step.
Knowing who your audience is and how competitors use the medium and the wins and missteps they’ve experienced is enlightening. Centralizing decision-making and bringing on a social media expert if needed can help navigate a landscape that lives on speed and iteration. Adapt and adopt are industry bywords for staying fresh.
Variety is the spice of social media, as well. Going beyond press information and publishing narratives about the company that engage visitors emotionally is key. Along those lines, video storytelling is growing quickly and works well not only on a company YouTube channel, but also as an embedded asset on a corporate website. Finally, variety includes regular publishing that keeps consumers coming back for more. Long gone are the days of the static website. Those who stand still will be left behind.
Caution is understandable in the rapidly shifting digital frontier. But Corporate Communications departments that think of the medium as the message open the door to new possibilities. By exploding their stories out into the world and scattering the breadcrumbs among the various platforms, corporate communications provides a trail for consumers to follow back to their website.
And that is good for business.