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There’s nothing social about Corporate Communications 

This is a blog post I wrote for CongRegation – a one day ‘un-conference’ social media gathering that took place in Cong, Co Mayo, Ireland on Saturday November 30th 2013.

There’s nothing social about Corporate Communications 

I came across a blog post by Ed Rex recently in which he wrote: “Saying a company has a view is like saying a restaurant has a favourite food.”   I chuckled when I read this thinking he meant that companies were incapable of having any view other than what they wished to convey.

The word communication came to us from the Latin word ‘communicare’ meaning “to share” i.e. the meaningful exchange of information between two or more living creatures.

The phrase corporate communication is something of an oxymoron; do we really believe there can be genuine dialogue between a corporation and a punter?

Social media for corporations is effectively multi-channel push marketing: I’ll bombard you with our company’s marketing messages, our calendar of events, upcoming product launches, competitions, giveaways and so on while simultaneously cramming across our, and only our, point of view across various platforms and multiple devices.

Let’s take a brief look at the twitter stats of three household brands in Ireland (November 27th 2013).

So where do these few telling stats tell us? 

Well none were sufficiently bothered to follow any or many of their followers back. It appears they didn’t spend much time reading other people’s tweets, well favouriting in any case so what exactly does their social media activity involve?

Each company’s most recent five tweets comprised of a tirade of one-way comms detailing company marketing messages, their calendar of events, upcoming product launches, competitions, giveaways and so on. Pretty one-sided, isn’t it?

But not all companies only hammer out self-serving tweets, right?

Correct, it’s not all one-sided. If you love us, we’ll love you and favourite and retweet any mention of our company that is favourable or even borderline positive, who knows we might even write a blog post about it or some other form of integrated anecdotal marketing.

However, if you express any opinion contrary to our viewpoint (we are necessary, we solve your problems, we are the best, end of!), then we’ve to pull out the big guns. This is what we call damage limitation and/or crisis management and a negative tweet will be whisked off the public domain to a secure private customer service platform such as Zendesk before you can write #fail.  We’ll work with you offline to resolve your issue and if you’re content and mention this happy outcome online well then heck we’ll love you and favourite you and retweet you, who knows we might even write a blog post about you or some other form of integrated anecdotal marketing all about you.

So should companies be more social or am I just bitter?

IMHO no, I don’t have a problem receiving impersonal pieces of self-serving information from a marketing machine. We can at times be poetic, whimsical, random, messy, grumpy and sometimes irresponsible but that’s ok because we’re human and we can get away with that. Business entities, on the other hand,  (no matter how small) are not people – they are paid for products and services that we perceive as helping us to work smarter, live better and longer and enjoy our time on this planet.   The role of corporate communications, for me as a professional in this space, is to present the company to their public(s) with a clear consistent message that reassures, gives comfort and minimizes cognitive dissonance.

What we need to do is package a given company as an authority, powerful, in control and very definite as to what they’re doing. We want to know we’re paying for reliable utilities, sturdy sports equipment and healthy non-GM food items etc.  So engaging in #zeitgeist might get a few more followers and a good deal of resources to chat about what’s trending with randomers, but will it really add value to the brand and enhance our reputation among customers, users and investors?

So when you’re developing your “social media strategy” you might ask yourself how social do you want your company to be?

Anyway, when Rex wrote: “saying a company has a view is like saying a restaurant has a favourite food,” he wasn’t cynical about corporate communications like me. Instead, he was referring to the phrase ‘views my own’ as I quote him: “The current assumption seems to be that, on Twitter and elsewhere in the media, you speak on behalf of your organisation unless you explicitly say so. We need to reverse this; views should be considered personal until proven corporate. The personification of a company or a country into a sentient being that can hold views, pass judgement and be ‘shocked’ by news events is an unhelpful metaphor that we should avoid at all costs. Instead, we need to treat our organisations as what they are: groups of people with different opinions, ideas and values. If we do that, we’ll be more innovative and our leaders will be more accountable. And there’ll be no more need for you to waste 12 precious characters writing Views my own. It’ll go without saying.”

To conclude, that is of course all very laudable and yes we want to tweet and engage with people not companies and yes a company’s greatest asset is its people. So go forth and be yourself, have conflicting opinions, speak your mind, don’t toe the party line if you know in your heart it’s wrong, contradict yourself, make grammatical slips, be true.

Just remember that if you have your company name in your twitter handle or your company’s twitter handle in your bio, someone like me will come knocking on your door suggesting you might prefer to use a slightly smarter photo, perhaps refrain from using foul language and do not, under any circumstances, associate our brand with #ImaCeleb

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