Don’t Forget the Basics

Posted on May 3, 2010. Filed under: Public Relations, Social Media | Tags: , , , , , |

There’s a saying that things happen in three’s, and I recently found that to be the case when it came to a particular piece of communication advice. The message: make sure you provide a reliable space for folks to easily access clear and direct communication.

The first incident was when I attended a PRSA event in New York City in March where Chris Barger, director of social media at General Motors, was providing his keynote address. In sharing his list of lessons learned during the company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, he stressed how setting up a company website that provided relevant information allowed company representatives to minimize conflicting messages and to easily refer the site to consumers when reaching out through e-mails, blogs, boards, Twitter and the like.

I then ran across an audio interview last week with Dennis Urbaniak, a Vice President at Sanofi-Aventis, who stated that one of the most important things a company could do was establish a place for people to dialogue and receive credible information. This would allow the communications team to set up a regular channel with its consumers and avoid being caught up in a reactive-only cycle to consumer questions and comments coming in 24/7.

My third ‘aha’ moment came via a BBC story reporting research findings on the reliability of medical advice on the internet. Of 500 sites searched, only 39% of sites provided correct information, with governmental sites providing the most reliable advice (100% accurate). Contrary to my expectations, the study found that company sites provided correct and relevant advice only 81% of the time, while news sites were on target only a paltry 55% of the time (researchers suggested that news sites had a potential conflict of interest with the maintenance of controversy, as opposed to outright providing incorrect information).

While it may seem like a basic 101 lesson in communications, I was surprised to find this a lesson many companies are still learning the hard way. Then again, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise given the pressure communications teams have to get on the bandwagon with social media. The priority to maintain a strong foundation could easily be forgotten as teams scramble to ready the company with new tools.

In order to successfully communicate to your audience, you need to establish a reliable source of information proactively; not just to educate consumers and the media or as an effort to react to a crisis situation. It’s not just about pushing out releases to the press, creating innovative YouTube videos, or using various social media sites to repost your press releases.

It’s about creating a dialogue, maintaining consistent messaging regardless of the source, and creating a trusted reference to help manage the misinformation and quick-time reaction generated by the increasing use of online and mobile tools. And so while we all try to keep up with the changing messengers of communication, we ultimately cannot forget the message.  Seem obvious? You’d be surprised how easy it is to forget.

Emi Nakatsugawa is a media consultant in Dow Jones Media Lab based in New York City.

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Using Trust Rather than Volume in Social Media, Part I

Posted on February 19, 2010. Filed under: Social Media | Tags: , , , , |

Trust Tethers Your Message

Edelman’s annual ‘Trust Barometer’ came out recently, revealing trust in business has risen around the world since 2009, and is up 18 points in the U.S. In addition, Edelman also reports that nearly the same share of respondents around the world (41%) think conversations with employees are credible sources of information about a company as think that of conversations with “persons like yourself” (44%). Just 19% of respondents said social networking sites were reliable sources. When you add that 83% of respondents indicated that the two most important factors to corporate reputation were having “transparent and honest business practices” and being “a company they can trust” (25 points higher than being a company who “prices fairly”) a picture of what all this means begins to form.

The Greek philosopher Plato observed that though having “true opinions” is useful, because true opinions tend to float out of your mind quickly, they’re not especially valuable until you tether them with chains of “reasons why.” And “tethering” reasons why are exactly what the data strongly suggests the vast majority of Facebook “friends” and semi-celebrity tweeters are incapable of giving the average consumer. These sources can only give quick “true opinions,” impressions that don’t tether a brand’s true value message to a potential client.

But because potential customers make little distinction between the ability of a peer to provide “reasons why” a brand is good and the ability of a knowledgeable company employee to do the same, the first lesson here is the great value of getting a credible and knowledgeable brand rep near a client. Of course this still leaves the fundamental problems of “where?” and “how?” so the next installment will provide framework for answering this. The final two installments will explain how to unravel the problem.

Come back on Monday to read more.

Damien DuPont is a report writer and quality assurance specialist in the Dow Jones Media Lab and is based in New York.

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