Friday, June 30, 2006

Getting social media strategies right.

For some time now we have seen high profile companies open up blogs. Many are just sticking thier neck out.

Some have a large number of internal blogs and make great play about it.

What, one may wonder are the strategies that lie behind this move into social media? It is more than fashion?

The fact is that organisations have an Internet presence.

  • They have control over part of it if they have a web site.

  • They have influence over part of it because they use email, instant messaging and can acquire hyperlinks from portals and directories and because they interact with organisations that create content on line such as newspapers radio and television.

  • They have involvement in some of it when they engage the social media like blogs, usenet, discussion lists and chat.

  • But there is a huge part of the Internet presence of organisations where the organisation has no influence. It is the range of web sites, blogs, Usenet, wiki's that talk about the organisation, its aims, ambitions, policies brands and products without interaction with the organisation.

The Internet affects organisations. They cannot escape involvement. For some the web site creates enquiries, sales and interactions that have to be dealt with. Be it email, information from a database, fulfilment or a phone call, the acts of the online constituency will create circumstances which demand attention. Investment in people and procedures because of an online presence is inevitable.

What this means is that most organisations are to some extent involved in online social interactions.

Inevitably, this will cause organisations to think about how the existing investment and online asset can be enhanced and the rise and rise of blogs has focused the mind on what to do next.

For many the first answer is to respond to blogs or write blogs. This shot from the hip is fun only if the organisation wants to get into trouble and grin sheepishly when it all goes wrong.

There is another way. It is to use the practice of public relations which means there is a need for a plan.

For most such a plan will follow a well worn path.

The planner will review the vision of the organisation and explore its current aims. A review of the organisation's constituency, the stakeholders and publics to identify relationships and perception will be critical. It is this landscaping that will allow the organisation to identify how it can create, sustain, maintain and develop relationships in the interest of the organisation. Among these considerations will be the relationships that are influenced by the Internet.

There is, as we know no distinction between Public Relations and online relationships. Public relations is mediated by the Internet as much as internal relations, and board meetings.
This review will by now be shaping Public Relations objectives.

What we see, as we cast our view round the landscape, are a range of relationship disciplines. These will encompass corporate affairs, internal affairs, press, radio, television broadcast media relations, Online media and media online relations, community affairs, web (site) based community relations (both owned sites and third party sites), Corporate Social Responsibility, blog and Usenet relations, Podcast and videocast audiences, email and IM audience relations, Investor relations and all those domains of public relations that makes this profession so interesting.

The extent to which publics (stakeholders) are touched by these disciplines will be cause for further analysis and objectives will be set for each.

We know that, the days when messages targeted for one public could differ from messages for a second public are long gone. Sure the messages need to be highly focused for each public but all publics can see all messages. Control of messages has changed a lot in the last five years.
With such objectives, there is a vast array of communications tools that can be considered for relationship management which can make strategy development quite complex. Knowing what we want to archive for each stakeholder group, development of a coherent methodology for achievement within the timescale inherent in the objectives will be a challenge.

To optimise the outcomes for objectives will, almost inevitably need a multi-touch approach using communications channels tactically.

Development of tactics almost always requires planning against timescales for delivery and delivery times have changed out of all recognition. For example, today, a press release issues in the morning will be in the hands of active publics long before the newsprint version is available to newspaper readers.

All this suggests there is a lot of work to be done before a tactical decision to use a blog can be made by an organisation.

Picture: High Profile Studio