Call me old school, but no, social media isn’t social.
To be social or to socialize means having one-on-one conversations and contributing to the rumble of small talk at gatherings. It demands that one be physically present. Speaking out loud, understanding body language, learning how to listen, respond, retain and relate are the constructs of socializing and foundational skills that deserve time and attention.
However, it’s not lost on me that social media is redefining the term “social” and the lens through which corporate America views it. The number of followers or connections that reporters, job prospects or companies have is becoming primary criteria in earning clout. Social media has built a world in which Twitter dominates the news cycle, LinkedIn can build careers and Facebook does the impossible by interlinking the world.
It’s a big deal.
The goal with any social media campaign is to gain followers that are influential and to turn “influencers” into advocates (an influencer being someone recognized for his or her well-established voice in a specific industry).
For tech, folks like Robert Scoble and Mary Meeker are considered influencers — Robert for his connections in the industry and astounding social following (as of July 2014 Robert had 406K followers on Twitter and more than five million followers on Google+) and Mary for her annual Internet Trends report which, for the investor community, is a coveted source of information. Social channels give anyone and everyone the opportunity to interact directly with these influencers and help nurture those relationships to turn them or their influential followers into advocates.
The job of public relations practitioners is to educate clients on the importance of this equation, because social media is NOT a numbers game. A client will always take more value from 10 highly influential advocates than from 1,000 everyday followers. It’s about quality over quantity, and the act of earning “mindshare” from an advocate takes time, patience and nurturing.
Beyond creating advocates, one’s client must also become part of a conversation. Every company has a choice: join that larger debate (supplementing its point-of-view, messaging and thought leadership efforts) or don’t. Developing a well-oiled social media presence establishes the rapport needed to earn credibility with the unforgiving Internet. A good example is Malaysia Airlines, which experienced two major crises back-to-back within a five-month time frame.
- First, on March 8, 2014, flight MH-370 vanished over the Gulf of Thailand causing one of the most expensive multinational search & rescue mandates in history.
- Then, on July 17, 2014, just as flight MH-370 was fading from the headlines, flight MH17 was shot out of the sky in Eastern Ukraine.
- Two flights and 525 lives from more than 15 nations lost by one airline over a five-month period.
For the media, the need to talk about Malaysia Airlines was impossible to resist. For Malaysia Airlines, social media was the primary outlet used to reach members of the public — and reach them immediately. The company’s pre-established presence on social channels was crucial, because it gave representatives a pre-built audience with which to speak during the crises.
The airline’s accounts tweeted condolences, offered refunds for any passengers who wanted to cancel future flights, gave updates for affected families and loved ones and translated its posts into different languages. Only social media empowered the company to add its voice to a decidedly global story.
Consider these core principles when interacting on social channels.
- For one, it’s not about revenue – it’s about relationships.
- Be mindful of the audience you’re trying to reach: Who are they? What do they care about? How can you contribute to the conversation?
- Identify the top 10 influencers in your industry and devise a plan to listen, respond and relate