Written by REGINA PHELPS & ABBAS HAIDER ALI
It seems that every time you turn around, you hear something about social media. With all the attention it has been receiving, it feels that in some ways it’s been with us forever, but of course that is not the case. It is a recent phenomenon and its one that’s here to stay.
So, what is social media? Simply put, social media is a way to communicate that uses web-based and mobile technologies to turn that communication into an interactive dialogue, allowing the creation and exchange of user-generated content. Those italicized words are the two key concepts to focus on: interactive dialogue and user-generated content. With just about everyone carrying a “smart phone” today, we all have become both producers of and consumers of social media.
Imagine a major disaster like an earthquake or tornado. In the “old days,” the emergency responders would arrive, and then your organization would send their public information officer (PIO) to the scene to garner the facts. The PIO would write a formal press release, and then they would hold a press conference to inform the anxious and waiting press of what had just happened. Aw, doesn’t that sound quaint?
Today, of course, it is a completely different story. The disaster occurs. Every observer pulls out their smart phone and snaps a photo and/or shoots a video, which they then upload to YouTube or Facebook. They may post (or “tweet”) on Twitter about it or post it to any number of other social media sites. If your communications team is not getting out your message immediately, then the media and the community will quickly stop listening to you – or stop waiting for you – and will instead follow the tweets and posts where the perceived “real” information is located.
The August 2011 Virginia earthquake quickly proved that point. People didn’t turn their TVs to CNN or their local news to get information on the scope of what was happening, they logged onto Facebook and Twitter. Early warning to locations as far away as New England via social media channels beat the earthquake itself. That could legitimately be a FCC “truth in media” approved slogan for social media – “Faster than a rolling earthquake.” And it’s not just about initial reactions, details about the magnitude and minimal damage spread through the same channels. Information from the USGIS website got into the hands of people not because everyone knew where to go, but because it was shared and re-shared tens of thousands of times. Overall, far more effectively than any other communication channel that we would today consider part of our national Emergency Alert System (EAS).
That’s our world today, and the genie is never going back into the bottle. Today, the most critical thing for you and your executives to understand is that everyone is a reporter and everyone can tell your story. We are in a brave new world.
What is Your Social Media Strategy?
So what will be your strategy in this brave new world? If you don’t have a strategy in place to lead the charge into social media, you will be at a loss when it becomes overwhelming. A strategy allows you to determine your interaction and measure success points in your social media journey.
As with most strategies, you need to determine your starting point – where do you begin? First, ask the most important question: “Why are you doing this?” This is the same question we use to drive our exercise design process, and upon asking it, we find that it provides most of our answers. Asking that question works here, too. There are two things to think deeply about:
1. What do you want to get out of it? Think carefully about this. What do you want this new communication tool to do for you? It’s not enough to say, “We want to do social media.” Pick goals that you can measure against to gauge the effectiveness of your efforts.
2. What level of freedom do you need for your