Whose line is it anyway?

In business, communication has long been and continues to be equated to a one-way outward-bound message.  Whether we’re talking Corporate Communications, P.R., marketing or even Human Resources, companies have used communication much like propaganda.  Today, in the new web-enabled world, that mindset is having to change and it is a transformative experience for each team involved in communicating. Communication has evolved to be more about multi-channel conversation than one-way messaging.

Moreover, the lines between the different conversations have merged, causing considerable confusion and missed opportunities for brands and companies.  Where does Corporate Communication’s role end and a Brand’s begin?  How does one draw the line between marketing and PR when the conversation with customers is happening neither on a branded website nor on a magazine’s e-forum?

risk managementThe confusion is magnified when a brand faces an eCrisis.  Take, for example, a case where on a Friday evening, after 5pm, an unhappy troll posts a scathing comment or video on a brand’s Facebook page.*  Who is responsible for responding?  For some companies, thus enters the role of the Community Manager who must scurry around to gather all the appropriate personnel and material to pen a suitable response — but, several questions surface:

  • is the company set up to manage an eCrisis, much less an after-hours eCrisis event?
  • how conversant is senior management in the “rules of engagement” online?
  • if there is not a Community Manager, who oversees the “management” of the situation?
  • will everyone internally be responsive to the Community Manager’s request for information?
  • should the Community Manager issue a response, let the online community itself manage the troll or, caveat emptor, delete the “offensive” comment?
  • to what extent can moderation be left up to a third party?

The future is in Customer Service & Community Management

Bad news has a way of being sticky, if not messy.  As I have said before, I believe that one of the new axes of effective marketing will be the way customer service (i.e. the customer interface) is handled, especially concerning the malcontent.  Similarly, community management will also have a large component of crisis management.  This is because (a) of the time sensitivity of the online conversation; (b) the need to make judgment calls on an ongoing basis; and (c) the need to mobilize internal resources to get the necessary information in a timely manner.

eCrisis Response Mechanisms

The C-suite must galvanize the company around the Community Manager’s mission (which must, in turn, be centred around the client).  Everyone with key data must be alerted to the need for responsiveness to the CM’s demands.  And, finally, a protocol must be put in place to manage the unexpected.  Because — particularly for the higher profile brands — if an eCrisis hasn’t happened, it surely will.

Three pieces of advice that seem very appropriate in a social media world:

  1. expect the unexpected
  2. monitor multiple channels and, if need be, contribute to the conversation on multiple channels
  3. in an effort to create a “reference” site, use links back to a ‘safe’ location (i.e. your institutional site) where you can craft the singular message you would like the community to read.  It is important to provide clarity when, in a social media frenzy, messages can be contradictory, if not confused.

*As was the case in the celebrated Green Peace campaign against Nestle (March 2010).

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