Posts Tagged ‘social media’

My Boss is a Sadistic Cockroach

December 6, 2011

The National Labor Relations Board has recently begun warning employers that restrictions on employee use of social media may violate labor laws for both union and non-union employees.  This is because the 1935 Wagner Act generally protects the right of employees to talk to each other to discuss employer conduct, wages and working conditions, so-called “concerted activity.”  According to legal experts cited in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, name-calling plain and simple probably isn’t protected, but more than a 100 employers have recently been accused of improper application of social media policies as it relates to employee comments online.  The NRLB has so far left a number of areas unclear such as the relevance of an employee posting a rant from a workplace computer, but it seems clear to us that this is another case in which employers need to be very cautious about censoring or firing employees for anti-company or anti-supervisor statements.  The NLRB may yet deem that a posting on Facebook by someone with workplace colleagues as friends constitutes de facto “concerted activity.”  This is just another area in which social media has opened up a new avenue for potential reputational damage and a further reason why handling your “talent” well has become a critical brand strategy.

Smoking Tweets

March 2, 2011

The Supreme Court’s ruling in the AT&T case ends for the moment the idea that corporations have any personal privacy protection of material provided to government agencies.  This has particular relevance in the burgeoning world of social media as practiced by companies, in which more and more internal and external traffic will not only be FOIA-ble but searchable.  In this environment, legal agreements in which companies pay fines without admitting to wrongdoing will provide little protection against out of context citation of awkward statements.  This is, of course, merely another reminder that the utmost care should be exercised in all forms of business communications, underlined by the ancient psychological truth that anything that can be misconstrued will be misconstrued.  We can understand why the U.S. Chamber of Commerce would  stand with AT&T on this.  Their statement cited in the Wall Street Journal that the ruling could have a chilling effect on corporations’ willingness to cooperate with law enforcement authorities somehow didn’t sound quite right, however.

Regardless of how the issue evolves, lawyers and communicators will now have to bid farewell to a tried and test cliché: “this statement has been taken out of context.”  How much context can there be in 140 characters?

Bandwidth in the Crack Pipe

June 7, 2010

A few weeks ago, during a discussion of online media habits, my student Linabel asked: “so is social media addictive like nicotine?”  Now The New York Times tells us why this is: a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats (eat apple, run from bear) creates a “dopamine squirt” that researchers say can be addictive.  In other words, the impulse to interrupt any activity to check an incoming email, text message, FB post is, in fact, anthropologically hard-wired.

This particular meme — the neurological dangers of the Internet — is currently tanning itself in the early summer sun, as Nick Carr “(Is Google Making Us Stupid?”) prepares the world for his new book — “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.”  The question is not whether people are being distracted by the constant interruptions the Internet enables (they clearly are) but what we should be doing about it.  Ideally, the answer is not reducing all communications to the length of Tweets, since we do still have things to talk about that require a more intense, more extended focus.

16th and 17th century works of theology had thumbnail summaries of the contents of the page in the outer margins, which definitely helped when the content was double predestination.  Maybe the Web 2.0 version is little messages like SMS alerts that interrupt you while you’re reading that recap the previous chapter or contain a short video of the author reminding you of the definition of credit default swaps.  Or how about hyperlinks that don’t actually go anywhere but deliver a pop quiz on the contents of the page?

We are all susceptible to the pleasures of these dopamine squirts.  Short of tying ourselves to the mast like Ulysses to resist the song of the Sirens, we’ll have to come up with some tricks to say focused.  But let’s not get too carried away about the extent of these dangers.  The first edition of Dr. Spock had a chapter on the perils of “too much radio.”

Accidental Micturation

May 27, 2010

Why does Procter & Gamble’s response to the Pamper’s Dry Max issue remind us of the Audi/Toyota problem?  Because there’s no good way to suggest your customers are wrong in linking their problems to your product without causing offense.  Even though, P&G has mostly responded in a sensitive, restrained way, one quote in a Business Week article sums up the problem: “By issuing a press release calling the allegations “completely false,” the company “basically called their core customers liars…”  Procter & Gamble wants the world to know that reports of increased diaper rash from the new Dry max technology are untrue,  even deliberate falsehoods by plaintiffs’ attorneys, cloth diaper adherents, fans of their competitors and customers who just hate change.  It appears they were particularly spooked by a false recall rumor.

If Nestle’s attempt to call Greenpeace on social media distortions of its actions on palm oil was round one, then the Dry Max story is perhaps round two in the effort to establish a customer-friendly style of corporate self-defense in social networks.  We think both these examples do illustrate one principle, which is that any note of paranoid victimhood by large multinationals, a tone of high dudgeon, in which companies describe themselves as “insulted,” no matter how well grounded, sets the wrong tone.  Social networks are just the latest confirmation of Churchill’s dictum that a “lie is halfway round the world before the truth has its boots on.”  Bristling at your customers doesn’t seem to be the best answer.  Fortunately, P&G, like Nestle, has the courage and the stamina to work its way through to a better answer.  In future, they will get there faster.

Who Owns Social Media?

May 18, 2010

This question came up last Tuesday at a launch briefing for our new book and then a friend sent me a Mashable article on the same subject.  It’s an important question because, as the article points out, there are social media activities going on in the marketing, customer service, public relations, investor  relations and lots of other functional departments in companies.  So, to parse this out, we probably need to answer some core questions: is there a central skill set called “social media” requiring functional specialists whether tweets or fan pages are being used for customer service or investor relations, recruitment  or some other thing?  Does social media consist of “places” that, while shared by different functions, need to be managed like real estate?  To the extent that corporate social media places carry independent content, do they need a gatekeeper?  Is being responsible for social media like or unlike deciding what goes on the company website?

This handful of the possible questions already demonstrates the organizational complexity of integrated social media use.  We think that a hybrid model might well work best, in which public relations is responsible for the real estate, but a cross-functional team of all the departments using social media for some purpose constitutes a consultative council.  In this model, there are social media specialists in marketing or HR who are managed by their own function leadership.  However, they need to make sure that public relations is kept abreast of their social media activities and plans.  Does public relations get to veto a social media plan hatched in marketing?  Probably not in most companies we’re familiar with, but as the party responsible to management for the real estate, they should be entitled to register strong displeasure if they feel a marketing initiative threatens the brand.

Why public relations? I won’t argue that there is a special mystique about the function that makes it especially deserving of this responsibility although some have suggested that marketing, the ancestral home of one-way communications, is not the place for social media.  I do think, however, that public relations tends to be a better place to aggregate and track activities from other functions and, certainly, public relations is on deck when a social media strategy goes pear-shaped.  As public relations is the locus, in most companies, of the monitoring of external opinion, it would also be logical to house social media, a medium mostly about listening, within that function.

M&A in Social Media

April 7, 2010

The recent merger of The Stanley Works and Black & Decker brings into elegant focus the new challenges a social media presence creates for merging organizations.  Or perhaps one should say presences, because once you add up corporate Facebook fan pages, product line Facebook fan pages with corporate and product line Twitterfeeds things start to get messy.  And we haven’t even mentioned corporate and product web pages.

The divergent desires of creating a unified new front for investors while at the same time maintaining brand intimacy for customers of the legacy brands are laudable.  However, when each social media encounter with a company offers a different experience, stakeholders might be permitted a minor twinge of confusion.  Stanley Black & Decker has a relatively broad use of social media which is admirable, but when some of their platforms mention the merger and others don’t, when some tweets enthusiastically embrace the merger and Facebook fan pages respond to queries and yet the YouTube channel ignores comments, one is left with an odd feeling of dislocation.

One suspects that the primary reason for this is the logistical challenge of coordinating platforms managed by different entities inside the two organizations within a brief timeframe, but clearly this is a skill that companies will need to acquire.  We believe that it is this kind of muddle that will ultimately drive companies to create strategic content for all stakeholders in every social medium rather than living on in the vain hope that they can use Facebook for recruitment, the web site for investors and Twitter for customer complaints.  As the economy heats up and M&A returns in force, more than a few companies will have to figure out a process for managing their social integration.

The Potemkin Villages of Twitter

March 25, 2010

Prince Grigori Potemkin, lover of Catherine the Great, was supposed to be developing the Southern Ukraine and Crimea.  When Catherine announced her plan to tour the area in 1787 to see how this development was coming along, Potemkin is believed to have panicked and erected painted facades of villages  with nothing behind them along the desolate banks of the Dnieper in order to give the impression of economic vigor.  The single flock of sheep on hand was driven from fake village to fake village during the night in advance of Catherine’s progress.  Potemkin later went mad and died from a high fever after eating a whole goose but that’s another story.

What brings the prince’s madcap scheme to mind is a recent tour of the empty steppes of  the world of corporations on Twitter.  Vast acreages of Twitter real estate are peopled with non-tweeting corporations, some of whom have considerable followings notwithstanding their muteness.  Presumably, many of these companies are in the early stages of developing a Twitter strategy and decided they needed to squat on their own brand identities in the Twitter-sphere in order to prevent rogue elements from getting there first.

Allowing for a moment that there is some legitimacy to this approach, it still seems to us that there is a huge missed opportunity here.  Even if the first tweet is “we’re coming soon,”  that’s still one more tweet than zero, but there are other alternatives: what about following other more active companies in your industry or industry news sources?  These links can always be deleted, if necessary, once you start tweeting for real.  What about asking the open question: “what kind of information would you like to receive from us on Twitter?” or “what would you like to talk about?”  Engaging the stakeholder base in this manner is a good way of starting the relationship.

The evolution of Twitter is a perfect illustration of the maxim that the best way to figure out how to make use of a social media platform is to experiment with it.  From thought leading consultants and computer companies to local pharmacies, everyone is discovering a slightly different way to benefit from Twitter and provide value to stakeholders.  Getting one’s feet wet seems to be the answer and we’re willing to bet the Twitter stream is warmer than the Dnieper in March.

Popularity and Leadership

March 3, 2010

Reflecting on political leadership and popularity in today’s Financial Times, John Kay remarks that leaders who obsess about their public image soon lose the voters respect.  This insight prompted us to think about the pitfalls for business brands in social media.  When brands engage in marketing via social media they are hanging with their customers, to use undoubtedly dated slang.  Before long, if they are not careful, though, brands in social media can become like the saddest kind of teenagers, endlessly trying to invent new ways to suck up to the popular kids so they will continue to be included in the cool crowd.  Inevitably, in this high school scenario, the cool crowd moves on, leaving brands that are desperate for popularity washing their hair on Saturday night.

What’s the solution?  Learn from the “alpha” teenager: lead, be cool, be available, take some risks, but don’t try too hard.  Move on without a tear when ideas fail or grow old.  Once in a while, act like you don’t give a damn. Loser.

The Volpone Effect

February 25, 2010

“Good morning to the world.  And next, my gold.”  These are the first words spoken by Volpone in Ben Jonson’s 1606 play of  the same name, in which the  protagonist starts his day by counting the gold kept conveniently under his bed.  It also explains why social media ought to be an absolutely natural fit for investor relations.  The intimate feelings that individual and institutional investors have for their investments are perfectly served by successful social media strategies.  Of course, we want companies to feed our needs by growing profitably and increasing the value of our investments.  But we also want a sense of community with management and other investors; we thrive on the drama of the day to day action in the market; we enjoy the insider status that effective investor communications gives us; we swell with pride at a successful investment and worry like a parent when our investment catches a fever.  All of these emotional and psychological needs can be served more effectively, we believe, by social media than through traditional communications tools.  The companies that can get comfortable with the regulatory hurdles posed by some social media will build stronger investor brands than ever before.

XFinity Strikes

February 10, 2010

The media and the blogosphere are having a predictable field day with Comcast’s rebranding effort, raising questions both about the need for and the likely effectiveness of  the campaign with customers.  What surprised us, since the purported reason for the rebranding was to get customers excited about the speed and breadth of its online offerings, is the complete absence (so far) of a social media strategy to go with the launch.  An essentially blank Facebook fan page (two fans) and a non-tweeting Twitter account called “XFinityCares” are the extent of the visible signs of a customer engagement in social media.  Perhaps the launch date of February 12 will reveal all, but in this era of hyper-instantaneousness, it would seem that a simultaneous MSM and social media coming out would have been logical, even expected.