Though it may not be able to transform interaction between business people, can social media change corporate responsibility?
Social media is web-based and mobile technologies that turn one-way communication into interactive dialog. This is another way of saying that social media encourages conversations.
These conversations and the interactions that they have spawned have a remarkable effect on business activities. This phenomenon is illustrated by a well-traveled social media parable.
When two strangers meet to transact business, the tone of their conversation changes when they know mutual people. When these mutual acquaintances are well-respected by both parties, the tone of the business conversation is even more improved. Facebook friends or LinkedIn accounts are both conduits for relationships with otherwise complete strangers.
While there is little argument that social media can transform interaction between business people, there is some question as to whether social media can drive other positive business actions. For example, can social media change corporate responsibility?
The answer to this question involves understanding the difference between a company’s core values and the values that it presents for public consumption. The transparency that results from a company’s exposure via social media can reveal kinks in its public persona and these can offer unflattering views of its core values. Plus, no matter how hard they try to avoid social media, companies are de facto involved with social media because everything is subject to exposure.
A Different Business Communication Model
The natural tendency of the managers of corporate communications is to default to a paid advertising model. Before the days of businesses with LinkedIn accounts, offsite blogging and constant transparency, corporations would create a (self-serving) message, pay for the media placement and be confident of the message’s context.
This one-way communication model worked well before social media appeared. Now, a company’s media campaign often appears on social networks such as YouTube before it is scheduled to appear on other media and millions of ad critics and individuals who have real or imagined grievances against the company have the opportunity to weigh in with their opinion about the veracity of this carefully-crafted message.
A Social Media Debacle – Big Pharma
The recent experience of pharmaceutical companies with Facebook is a cautionary tale for other business categories. In a reversal of its long-standing policy, Facebook decided that it would open the “Walls” of the pharmaceutical brand pages. According to the Washington Post, “(Pharmaceutical) Companies are worried that open Walls mean risks, and many are reconsidering their engagement on Facebook. The industry is concerned that users might write about bad side effects, promote off-label use or make inappropriate statements about a product, and that the comments could raise concerns from government regulators.”
There have always been potential concerns related to the privacy of Fans of some of these Pharma sites. Since potential employers have been known to investigate the Facebook history of potential employees, having traceable comments on sites that deal with chronic depression, drug rehabilitation or substance abuse is problematic at best.
Best Case Scenario – Food and Entertainment
If big Pharma is a case study in the potential for social networks landmines, food and entertainment companies represent the other extreme. A great example of the proper way to use social media for promotion is the iPhone app called Forkly.
This well-designed tool, which was launched in August 2011, allows consumers to discover new restaurants and once there, it recommends dishes based on the individual’s taste at the establishment. According to several technology blogs, Forkly has better social hooks than other websites or apps. It has influencer scores, embeddable widgets for food bloggers and a news-feed of food photos from friends. Forkly offers restaurant owners analytics and loyalty rewards and special features like customizable menus.
For every negative experience that corporations have on Facebook, there are thousands of successes. For example, the Starbucks Facebook page had 24,713,776 people who LIKED the site on one day. This means that every time the company wants to sample a new product or offer an incentive to encourage traffic, with a couple of keystrokes and no additional investment, this can be communicated to almost 25 million customers.
Bloggers and Corporate Responsibility
In addition to enhancing transparency, bloggers contribute value to websites. Fresh content on a website is a great way to increase its organic ranking on Google. Plus, blog posts and re-posts are an attractive source of social media content. While there have always been a small group of “consumer advocates” who got a few minutes of network TV time or a few column inches in print media, the sheer number of bloggers is staggering. There are hundreds of thousands of part-time bloggers and an undetermined number who ply their craft on full-time basis.
While these bloggers can be employed by companies, there is a marked trend toward offsite blogging and this will lead to more independent postings. These views will still be biased, because at its core, blogging is opinionated writing, but they will not have the bias of the company that owns the blogger’s platform.
As with companies, bloggers have had transparency issues. Tech bloggers who endorse the free gadget or Mommy bloggers plugging the free stroller they have received have gotten a great deal of negative comments from the ever-vigilant social media.
Social Media and Corporate Values
With a corporate social media strategy, honesty is the best policy. This is not based on ethical considerations but rather on the likelihood of getting caught in a lie. With the ubiquity of social media, from offsite bloggers to the millions who have LinkedIn accounts, when this happens it can be devastating to the offending company.
Whether social can affect the core values of corporations remains to be seen, but they can certainly affect its public persona and this could have a positive effect. Over time, this personality that's presented on Facebook or other social networks and monitored by the millions of potential citizen reporters, might evolve into more positive corporate core values.