I’ve heard a lot about what it means to be au fait with social media from both communications practitioners and business people and it’s interesting that the very question of expertise was part of the discussions at a Chartered Institute of Public Relations North East event I took part in recently. The event was about the changing nature of digital media and a conversation topic was how everyone involved with the communications function could stay abreast of emerging social media tools while using those readily available more effectively.
There was a general recognition that for many reasons (time, cost and training being key factors) social media is still often not exploited well, which suggests that businesses face a dual challenge – how to upskill staff to use useful tools to their full ability, while spending time evaluating which new ones on the horizon should be adopted to secure early mover advantage. This becomes quite a critical debate when you take into consideration businesses today should actually be integrating social media communications across their entire workforces – after all, every staff member is an ambassador for the organization and managing what they say in a company capacity has never been more important. If your comm’s people aren’t up to speed with the changing media landscape, how will that objective ever be achieved successfully?
In many organisations there are Twitter ‘experts’ who purely use the platform to disseminate company messages without engaging with their followers in the true sense of the word. In this situation, those tweeting don’t use the medium to monitor what people are saying within the industry or about their firm (which can help inform the business strategy); they certainly don’t implement blogger outreach programmes to reach key influencers and often to these people it is the number rather than relevance and quality of followers that matters. This is an issue in two key ways – firstly if the activity doesn’t really pay, why bother, and secondly it’s unlikely any crisis would be spotted and managed successfully where this is the case. Expertise doesn’t really come into it.
That said, there are comm’s practitioners and industry professionals who do use Twitter and other tools highly efficiently, all the while working hard to stay abreast of the latest developments – and let’s not underestimate how much time it takes to work out which are credible, useful and worth adopting. Quora is a great recent example and still requires some evaluation. A question and answer tool that could potentially be used for research to generate customer feedback; to show thought leadership and / or to monitor the favourability of a brand, it would be nevertheless be right for businesses to approach this with caution. Are those already posting as experts on the system really trustworthy and knowledgeable and, as those interacting get to vote on their favourite answer to a question, how can you be sure your brand won’t be hijacked and misrepresented at any point? Jumping in from the very start could hinder rather than help your brand, especially if you can’t be sure of being represented fairly.
There are still huge steps to be taken in this evolving field and it is the responsibility of communications professionals to lead the way and educate organisations about the various digital tools that are available, signpost to those that are credible and show how these can be used effectively to engage target audiences. Equally, businesses need to look honestly at their social media activity and seek advice if they are purely ticking a box and not generating the return of investment that this type of activity should.
Despite a huge push in the right direction, a sea change in social media expertise won’t happen overnight – as new innovations are launched, it takes time to evaluate them, work out how to use them to best advantage and even longer to cascade digital competency through the ranks. Work with a professional to get it right however and your business could move from go slow to global.