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The New Age of #Social Responsibility One Tweet at a Time

Social Media is offering unprecedented opportunities for users, companies, individuals, pun dents and proponents of all causes deemed appropriate of championing to creatively voice their message.  Social media marketing is leading connections with friends, family, customers and comrades all over the world, at a pace showing little indication of slowing down.

With the benefits and the effectiveness of social media marketing still under review by companies not yet committed to unleashing new campaigns, recent stories surrounding competitor’s missteps are beginning to have a chilling effect on moving forward aggressively.  The problems appear to be rooted in a number of areas, some more functionally manageable and others that just fall into the “sometimes you just can’t win” category.

At the beginning of 2012, McDonald’s committed the greatest of all media faux paux.  The now famous, “be careful of what you ask for” mistake.  They initiated a Twitter campaign designed to boost exposure of the brand and encourage individuals to share stories. The company pumped money into ad campaigns to garner customers’ input and ask them what they thought about the company.  Twitter users were anything but kind.  People from all over the world began “pinging” the servers of Twitter with horror stories about the fast food giant.  In a media where the customer is more in control of the message and its dissemination, gaining an understanding of your customer’s opinion before the campaign is launched is of paramount importance.  The management at McDonalds failed to anticipate the negative response; either because they misunderstood the mechanics of the instrument or misinterpreted company sales performance with their customer’s perception and opinion of their performance.  Getting your head out of your financial statement and in front of the customer, with more “face to face time”, may be wise to better understanding how to manage the message and the media.

Some social media blunders are simply the fault of individual errors in the user understanding and using the technology.    This mistake originally got its start in the email world: accidentally “replying to all” instead of just to the original sender and Zap!  Your cute but critical remark about the company chairman just went to the whole company in addition to a trusted associate.  Twitter has compounded this problem. When you send a “@ reply” to a message instead of the “DM” you intended, it doesn’t just go to the whole company, it goes to the entire world.  Getting this genie back its bottle can be a real challenge and very expensive.  The mother of all “DM” failures may well be the tragic (although it is hard to feel sorry for a career politician) case of Congressman Anthony Weiner, who didn’t just send an easily forgotten lewd remark to the universe, but also accidentally distributed a picture of his private parts to the whole of the social media world.  There is no quick technical fix for this one, personal responsibility for developing and practicing competent skills in mastering the technology is essential for survival and not mixing personal private messages with company social media, an absolute rule to be practiced absolutely.

It is important to understand that not all information about the company is to be shared to the whole world.  Last year, Gene Morphis, CFO for women’s clothing retailer Francesca’s, emerged from a private board meeting and tweeted, “Board meeting. Good numbers=Happy Board.”  The message resulted in an immediate 15 percent spike in company stock prices, but unfortunately it was illegal.  Revealing some information to a select few is just as errant as revealing the same information to all.  Compliant social media programs are monitored to ensure the safety of company information that is proprietary and confidential.

As is the case in other functions of business, eventually someone will need to be hired and given the responsibility to manage the social media effort.  When identifying an outside contractor or inside employee to oversee your social media program, care should be taken to determine that the entity understands the company mission, overall marketing program, policies on distributing company information and intended company persona.  Failing to be in tune with all aspects of the established company brand and understanding the goals and objectives of combined marketing objectives will result in wasted expenditures and unwelcome public attention to an unintended message.  And when making what may be unpopular organizational changes, be sure to limit access to the media machine.   HMV, a global entertainment retailer, learned this lesson the hard way when it began a round of layoffs, resulting in a live-tweeting of the “mass execution” by its social media planner, who was among the fallen. It was sour grapes, to be sure, but the tweets also included allegations that the company’s management had used illegal interns.

Although a lot of terrible social media behavior and blunders can be blamed on accidents or publicity, some of the screw-ups can be attributed to unauthorized hacker involvement. Social media security is a serious issue, and attacks on campaigns that attempt to damage a company’s Twitter and Facebook credentials are nearly daily, common occurrences.  Protect your business’s accounts with strong passwords, and ensure that the only people who have access to the accounts are those who truly need it.  Setting sensible ground rules and processes will minimize the risks.

We all enjoy laughing at the most recent installment of the media’s “World’s most famous bleeps, bloopers and blunders.” Social responsibility becomes key to avoid becoming the storyline.

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