THE BLOG

Corporate Affairs Is Now Everyone's Business

06/16/2015 06:07 pm ET | Updated Jun 16, 2016

We all know, in the digital era, the key battleground for corporate reputation is now social media. Two-way conversations have become the norm. Static media like press releases and carefully worded reports are no longer enough. Consumers, influencers, shareholders and suppliers all expect direct access, instant response, and transparency - and all delivered with a human face.

But while businesses know what has to be done, not many are doing it well. Too often a stilted pdf-led approach has simply been replaced with a stilted Twitter-led approach; a single Twitter handle, every utterance carefully crafted (rarely re-tweeted) and engagement avoided at all costs. This is backed with a Facebook page crammed with links to corporate web pages, which go resolutely 'unliked'.

It's an attempt to transplant the authoritative corporate voice from the world of the email attachment to the world of social media. And it doesn't work.

Communications in a social world is diffuse, with many voices and just as many opinions, with no hint of deference or hierarchy and no single figure of authority. You need to make this work to your advantage. It's less about the organisation itself than the people within it. It's not about control but coordination.

The chances are everyone in your organisation will have a social media presence. From the CEO trying to sound normal on Twitter to the guy running the carpark and instagramming everything, they'll all have an outlet. You can't control every utterance but you can offer guidance, give them content to share and give understanding about what is, and isn't, appropriate.

These are your first wave of advocates. The foot-soldiers, if you like, of a coherent, authentic and effective digital reputation strategy which does not just rest on the voice and authority of senior figures, the power of the brand, the expertise of key figures and the reach of social behemoths.

Maintaining any form of editorial control over such a diffuse array of participants is tricky. Systems of governance and even monitoring will be needed, strategy will have to be shared, a common purpose established.

And that's all before considering the external recruits to your cause - the influencers, the media, the customers, the stakeholders. Riding that team of horses takes no small degree of skill, above all, it requires a strategic overview that shares the bigger picture and encourages all the participants to face the same direction.

The prizes for the management of such fluidity and complexity are worthwhile. Reputation is everything in the social age as consumers increasingly make decisions based on perceptions as well as economics. Why else did Starbucks suddenly decide to make a voluntary tax contribution?

It can deliver industry leadership, and the chance to influence policy. Legislation being debated that you disagree with? How do you expect to be heard without the apparatus of social media and an audience who will listen because you're already engaging? If you want to mobilise opinion around you, there are few other viable alternatives.

It's usually at this point that obstacles are raised over who is going to do all this work and the risks if it goes wrong.

But using Twitter as your press room and your website as the source of information for the press reduces your workload and enables you to speak to a much wider audience, including bloggers and social media influencers. In not limiting yourself to your address book, you extend your reach. And don't worry about whether journalists will follow you. If they are interested, in the slightest, they will.

You have to think, of course, beyond the press release. The case studies, the first person reports, the blogs, the pictures, the video, the infographic and the data which all makes interesting content also needs sourcing, checking and publishing. Who on earth is going to do that? You are. Or at least your team is.

You're in a different world now. You're a publisher and the content you create and that you, your team, your colleagues and your advocates distribute is what will drive the conversation around you. And surely that must be your ambition. You'll need content strategies and editorial processes, and know who signs off what. It's a complex world, but one that allows you direct contact with your audiences. These are the new tools of your trade.

In the end, the hurdle to overcome is not really one of technology but of habit and culture. Big change, yes, but also big rewards.