Social media guru Brian Solis, principal of Silicon Valley PR firm Future Works, visited the Kansas City chapter of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) tonight – bringing the message that interactive web platforms are transforming the way companies communicate with their publics.
Brian comes at social media from a branding and public relations perspective, and his PR 2.0 blog is well-known. His first engagement in social media was selling digital cameras through the old bulletin boards and forums of the 1990s. And he still approaches the topic looking for measurable impact on sales of products.
As an investor relations practitioner focusing on communicating with financial audiences, I see most companies struggling to come to grips with social media. Web 2.0 is a threat to corporate reputations – and an opportunity. Most companies are still experimenting and trying to clarify their strategies. Some are in full denial.
Several messages that Brian shared stuck with me:
- We are moving into this uncontrolled, overstimulated world of social media. Like it or not, customers and investors and employees are talking about our companies in blogs, on Twitter and Facebook, with videos on YouTube.
- Most companies and communicators are struggling to find the best ways to participate in social media to connect with their audiences. “We’re all sort of equal in terms of what we don’t know,” Brian said. This was reassuring to hear from a guy who’s been at it since before Facebook, Twitter, etc. existed.
- There is great value in personally visiting social media sites, searching for your company and brands, and listening to what people say. We should know who the influential reporters, bloggers and Twitterers are in our industries. By monitoring, we can calculate sentiment, garner feedback and get an early warning on crises, he said. Observation and data come before engagement.
- Companies need to address the organizational issues of social media. In a couple of years, all areas of our companies will be using networking platforms, one way or another, Brian said. It’s inevitable given the rapidly rising public use of websites for networking, content creation and sharing.
Brian noted that his contacts from companies seeking help come from different departments: Customer Service, Marketing, IT – not just PR (usually not IR, I bet).
As communicators, we should come to grips with policy issues raised by new media and put tools and procedures in place for people across our companies. As IR people, we need to lead in planning for disclosure and capital market impacts.
Update: See also a post on this topic by Dan Schawbel on the PR 2.0 blog, and a neat post by Laurel Papworth, an Australia social media strategist, with lots of examples and links to social media policies (thanks to Dan for the link to her blog).