Session two at the CIPR Northern Conference is a Social Media panel chaired by Helen Standing and involving Ross Wigham from Northumberland County Council, Alex Abbotts from Bromford and Jo Newbould from ASDA. Jo: ASDA sees itself as a media owner that tries to engage with customers without selling stuff. It places content where its customers are rather than vice versa. It's a connector not a collector - engagement as opposed to high followers and fan numbers. Its strategy is to listen first, engage second, influence third. Spotting issues and avoiding crises is a key part of the role and video responses to breaking news stories have been a successful approach for ASDA - for an example search for the ASDA chicken licker on YouTube! The team uses social media to harness opportunities - free products are often sent to brand advocates - and to gauge feedback. The insight gained has even seen product changes implemented in the past. Social media is obviously a strong way for the brand to showcase products and the team uses it to generate an emotional connection, perhaps by using nostalgia or by harnessing issues that matter to its followers.
Alex: Bromford is a social business and uses a number of social media channels. The riots in Birmingham prompted it to use these to their full extent. One of the hardest thing was convincing senior management to exploit the opportunities offered by social media but the efforts to bring them onside in time paid off. Channels used by Bromford are Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Foursquare. Facebook and Twitter are very useful for early warning of any issues. Twitter also allows Bromford to reach chief executives directly where before things like its annual report would have reached their secretaries' desks and no further. Social media has turned Bromford into content creators. It shapes content around its audiences rather than the organisation itself. Bromford has learned that to successfully have a team delivering good and relevant content, staff need to be equipped with the relevant technology.
Ross: Councils have in the past been guilty of an over-reliance on media relations. Northumberland County Council has an internet ready audience, which wants to connect that way. People can have their say in a more direct manner - whether good or bad. The council first looked at social media in 2009 but has since become an innovator in this area within the public sector. Success has come from harnessing the pride that residents have in the county and by listening and acting early where there are issues. An important lesson is that organisations cannot control social media and the challenge is to relinquish the notion that you can. What people say on social media is what they will say to their friends or in the pub - at least on a public forum the council can have its say too. Key lessons: think customer and not corporate, use the right language, be honest. This all improves reputation and importantly this can be proved through perception studies.