MICHELLE UBBEN, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
A new national survey of corporations about their use of social media tools and strategies, published in the October issue of PRWeek, confirms that social media is changing corporate communications, probably permanently. But the shape of that change is very much in flux. The survey responses confirm that we are in a period of intense experimentation, with varying levels of acceptance, styles of application and evidence of ROI.
One fact is clear: Although social media is essentially “free,” lots of dollars are flowing in an effort to harness its power, most of them diverted from advertising budgets.
The primary application of social media by corporate America is to shape conversations about the brand, but fully 45% use it to simply listen. Does all that listening have an impact? Apparently so: More than a third of those surveyed say they have changed their products or marketing efforts based on social media feedback.
The introduction of the two-way conversation is surely the most radical change ushered in by the social media phenomenon. While much of the focus of traditional communication – PR and advertising – involves shaping perceptions by controlling the message, social media is only effective if it is treated as a true conversation. Nobody likes someone who does all the talking. That means customers get to say what they think of corporate brands, products and services, unfiltered and unvarnished. And that’s scary.
In fact, fear does play a role in companies’ failure to implement social media strategies – engaging in a public conversation seems risky to a brand. And yet, fear is not even close to being the biggest barrier to implementation: 53% cite lack of internal resources or time and 43% cite lack of knowledge or expertise.
Primary uses of social media? Sixty-five percent say they connect with customers, 63% build brand awareness and 49% manage brand reputation, yet only 29% found it important for crisis communication.
Where will all this tweeting lead? Look for growing acceptance among the 37% who say they don’t currently use social media tools and increasing experimentation among those who do. And, of course, expect everyone to attempt to find ways to use social media to boost sales without turning conversations into a sales pitch. THAT would surely be bad form.