I`ve come across a very interesting view on social media, stated by Mirko Lange, head of Talkabout Communications. He says social media is the "cocaine" of communication, referring to a conversation between Bill Cosby and a friend of his:
Cosby: "Tell me, what is it about cocaine that makes it so wonderful?"
Friend: "It intensifies your personality."
Cosby: "But what if you`re an asshole?"
Now according to Lange, this applies to social media just as much: Using it, whether professionally or private, will enhance and intensify your personality (i.e. your brand`s or your company`s personality). If you are an asshole - don`t use it. It`s as simple as that.
Well, unfortunately only few people see themselves that clearly. So they`ll do it anyways. And I do think that even a negative reputation can be turned into a positive one through social media, through public engagement and transparency.
But for some reason it`s usually the corporations who have a negative image already - the shady big players - that manage to screw up something as easy as social media.
Why? Because they handle it exactly the way they used to handle traditional media: dumping information on a passive audience and performing one-way communication instead of dialogue. This is bound to fail, since passive audiences don`t exist anymore. They`ve turned into publics, and publics want to be engaged.
We`ve seen the examples of Nestle, Walmart and BP (all issued in this blog) and they all had one mistake in common: they entered social media (a medium based on and consisting of two-way communication) and forced it into a one-way communicational approach. By spinning and holding back information, ignoring customers and other stakeholder groups, or - most obvious - by trying to withdraw information through legal actions (like Nestle who tried to get rid of the Greenpeace youtube video by issuing copyright claims). At least we now know how they`ve been handling their PR for decades.
These actions backfire in social media. Once information is online, it will stay there forever and there is no sense in manipulating your public anymore. The main principles of social media are dialogue, transparency and engagement.
So join the social media party, but even if you think you`re the coolest kid on the block: be social and take part in the conversation! If your not interested in other people`s opinion - don`t ask for it in the first place.
In many ways, social media is like cocaine. It`s highly addictive and it turns out the best and the worst in people. So make sure you are on your best behaviour.