Over the past few weeks, we’ve explored social media, and the various ways consumer packaged goods companies use it to connect with their target audiences, advance their brands, and extend their marketing reach. Although the topics have been wide-ranging, some common threads have emerged that describe a set of best practices for corporate social media.

One recurring theme is the importance of establishing an authentic voice in the social media conversation. Whether it is a company Facebook page, a blog by the CEO, or a Twitter feed, today’s consumers expect a social media conversation to be exactly that – a conversation, a one-to-one exchange between individuals with distinct personalities and perspectives. If in any conversation one of the participants is dissembling, pursuing an agenda, or being in some quantifiable measure, less than openly and transparently honest, the other party will tune out, if not grow outright resentful. Our trust of each other is the standard currency by which we measure the value of every single social exchange, including our transactions with the corporations whose products we buy, or just consider buying. It is a simple idea, and one that we have all more or less taken for granted – be honest with people and they will trust you. Don’t trust people who are not honest with you. But it actually flies in the face of what had been the conventional wisdom of marketing and PR professionals for decades; that the company has to control its brand, and has to shape its brand perception in the minds of the consumers. The advent of social media has turned that idea on its head, and is transforming the way companies connect with their markets.

In this presentation on Ted Talks, Clay Shirky makes a compelling (and, at times, wonderfully entertaining) case for adapting open-source programming techniques to the democratic process. It’s also highly instructive to anyone who is using, or planning to use, social media for enterprise, on why honest, transparent dialog is essential for success. Shirky correlates the version control systems that are an essential component of open-source software development with how other types of communities form. The subject matter is fairly technical up to around 10:50, at which point he turns his attention to the larger internet community. He focuses on how communities come together through the application of new media technologies, and why the internet can change something as large, complex, and pervasive  as our democratic form of government. All sandwiched in between the saga of Martha Paynes “NeverSeconds” food blog.

This is all very big-picture, but it ties in quite neatly with why openness, authenticity, and transparency are crucial in corporate social media. Social media, whether programmers collaborating over the internet to develop software, hypothetical citizens collaborating on legislation, or a nine-year-old Scots schoolgirl blogging about her school dinner, has democratized access to, and sharing of, information, more so than any previous technology. For corporations, this means it is now the consumer who controls the brand, and ultimately the power to shape the identity of the corporation itself. In the brave new corporate social media world, the conversation is happening with or without the participation of the companies being talked about. If they are not already, those companies need to join the conversation and  they better be ready to converse in an authentic voice, or the consequences will be worse than if they stayed quiet.

– Paul Heitsch


~ by goodpackagedconsumers on October 29, 2012.