Corporate communications has well and truly caught the social media bug. Bringing with it a whole host of new channels and a great deal of potential, it’s very easy to want to jump on the bandwagon of social media, but much harder to perfect an online presence that represents a real return on time and resource invested in it.
One of the challenges is the culture shift that social media represents in communications. Although it might seem like a chance to talk directly to stakeholders, it is designed around user-generated content and two-way conversation, and requires a commitment to listening and responding to input, as well as generating output.
Many corporate communications departments are used to focusing on, controlling, scheduling their output but to all intents and purposes, social media represents a whole new environment with different risks and rules. In the same way that a company would be ill-advised to enter a new market without the appropriate due diligence, joining the conversation via social media requires careful preparation.
A key part of this preparation is listening. By listening to conversations, you can learn not only what is being said about you already, but also what sorts of conversations are already active, and who is active and influential within them. This can help you to mitigate the risks of joining conversations that are not yet fully understood.
Listening is vital, but in reality, content and conversations are only half of the story. You can put time, resource and budget into useful and interesting content development but a digital communications strategy will stand or fall on the basis of the ongoing interaction with content.
As the now famous, “Cluetrain Manifesto “states:
“To speak with a human voice, companies must share the concerns of their communities. But first, they must belong to a community.”
One of the most important aspects of a digital communications strategy is community building. Audiences will engage in digital dialogue with you based on their degree of interest in a subject, their capability online, their preparedness to share content with others and their degree of comfort in engaging with you. Without commitment to community building, there may be very few people joining your conversation and channels can begin to feel dated and one-way, which can undermine audiences’ willingness to engage.
Listening to and joining ‘conversations’ therefore needs to be coupled with careful consideration about how your digital community, made up of a stakeholder audience that is willing to engage regularly can be built up and maintained.