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May 7, 2012

Is It Time To Stop Listening to Social Media?

Posted on the Spin Sucks blog on May 3rd by Elissa Freeman

Shhhh. Can you hear it? It’s the sound of yet another corporate giant falling to its knees after a tidal wave of social media criticism.

Corporate capitulation is happening with frightening regularity these days. We no longer look at the Fortune 500 as impenetrable monoliths; instead, they now appear as dominoes ready to topple at the first flick of public outcry via the Twitterverse.

When do ‘we the people’ stop having a point? And when do we as communicators stop listening to it?

Are we counseling our clients/organizations to respond because it’s the right thing to do or are we being bullied into it via the blogosphere?

Effective social media advocacy campaigns typically start with a like-minded demographic – underlining the ‘strength in numbers’ theory. Mom bloggers first made waves with the makers of Motrin and then took public umbrage at JC Penney’s “I’m too pretty to do homework” T-shirt debacle. In both cases, McNeil Laboratories and JC Penney bowed to the pressure and removed their campaigns.

More recently, the public outcry over the Susan G. Komen Foundation’s anti-Planned Parenthood stance created a unified voice for the undoing of social injustice. Yet, the call for Mars, Inc. to donate proceeds from accelerated sales of Skittles spurred by the Trayvon Martin case falls into the “this is what we think you should do so do it” category.

It appears we may need to start putting a different filter on what constitutes best practices when providing counsel on social media response. Any worthy PR pro will have already integrated social media plans into their client or organizational communications strategy or provided counsel on audience engagement and response.

But is the frequency of public demands via social media creating a ‘cry wolf’ mentality? Just because social media makes water cooler conversation public, how do we gauge the effect it should have on the corporate conscience?

I’ve created a list of thought-starters that I will use as filters the next time I need to provide counsel on a response to a social media outcry.

  1. Consider the demographic. Do they affect my business? Are they an organized entity?
  2. Prevent knee-jerk reactions. Do we need to respond? Now or later?
  3. Implement good crisis communications. The rules still apply depending on the severity of the situation.

Are there any others? How do you judge when and when not to respond?

Elissa Freeman is vice president, PR and communications for the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games. You can find her on Twitter @elissapr.

Comments

Elissa has it right for the most part

I really couldn't agree more with you Elissa, on the whole communications issue you mention. To many companies and their PR counselors are giving every social media eruption too much weight. That said, the one issue you illustrated that does need to be addressed is how subjective we all can view certain social media incidents. In other words, our yardstick to measure possible response is very subjective.

For example, your view of the Susan Komen incident is one where Komen had to respond. I agree completely. But your characterization of it, saying that social media: "created a unified voice for the undoing of social injustice" makes me uneasy. Who are we to say what's social injustice? Such terminology comes only from one extreme side of the issue, and not the side that truly cares about the future of the Susan Komen Foundation.

Yes, Komen screwed up and they had to respond. That meets your criteria, but as professional communicators focused on the issue of whether to respond or not to certain issues, it's in our best interest to be a little more objective unless we're involved as representatives of one side of the issue.

I'm not suggesting you should not have an opinion or express it freely. I'm suggesting that when we're on a blog focusing on the communications dynamics, it's less of a distraction to know you're not biased on the issues you use to illustrate your points.

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