Until now, many companies have ignored social media without suffering obvious consequences, especially in industries that, in the past, have not included a high proportion of social media users. Social media participation was a choice. But this era of opt-in social media is ending. Instead of customers needing to seek out social media content proactively in order to be exposed to it, social media will be pushed to them automatically everywhere they go on the Web.
We have entered the era of asymmetric social media, and there isn’t a place on the Web where companies can escape it. Online media coverage, advertising, search engine results and even a company’s own Web site are about to be overtaken by social media in a way that cannot stopped, slowed down or controlled. In every place that a brand is on the Web, social media will there as well, providing feedback, offering praise and criticism, and seeking a response.
A brand’s only hope of survival in this new asymmetric social media era is to build a community of active online supporters who will support and defend the brand against negative attacks, and add credibility and authenticity to the brand on the Web.
THE OLD PARADIGM: OPT-IN SOCIAL MEDIA PARTICIPATION
Before social media was widely used, only corporations and large media outlets held the means to communicate with a mass audience. As a result, past corporate communications models were built upon top-down, one-way messaging that executives delivered to stakeholders, who had little ability to respond or broadcast competing messages.
The arrival of social media meant that individuals could communicate with a mass audience of other individuals using the same social media technology, and respond directly to companies that chose to engage them using these mediums. However, there were still a number of limitations.
Social media platforms cross-communicated only manually. To see social media content, you had to participate in social media platforms. Even if some of your customers were talking about your company on social media platforms, brands could still choose to ignore it, or to dabble in a few areas of social media with a piecemeal strategy.
NEW ERA OF ASYMMETRIC COMMUNICATIONS
The era of “opt-in” social media is oversocial media has become asymmetric. In the new asymmetric era, social media content is not created, shared, managed or stored the way it once was.
There are three dynamics that are central to driving the era of asymmetric social media: integration, aggregation and annexation.
â–¶ Integration: In this new asymmetric era, information is communicated as easily across different social media platforms as it is within a platform. With one click, and often automatically, online news articles are shared across Facebook and Twitter, tweets are posted as comments on blogs and news articles, and YouTube videos show up in Google searches as easily as corporate Web pages do.
Audiences do not need to be proactively participating in social media to be consuming social media content in the normal course of their online activities. They don’t even have to click on links to view social media content anymore—the social media content is now brought to them in full within the “traditional” Web sites they frequent.
â–¶ Aggregation: Today, social media content related to a company that exists on various platforms can be aggregated without the company’s knowledge or permission. This collection of content can become a compelling destination for users who might not have scoured the Internet and pieced together disparate shreds of information, but who are very interested in digesting the information in a single location.
â–¶ Annexation: Perhaps most threatening to companies not engaged in social media are the new tools that allow uncontrolled communications to proliferate.
Take Google Sidewiki. Sidewiki’s implications for corporate Web sites are enormous: Google has just made corporate Web sites social, whether execs like it or not. For example, disgruntled ex-customers or employees can create a running commentary on a company’s homepage that will be visible to anyone that has Google Sidewiki installed on their Web browser. Execs cannot moderate these comments because they are not controlled by the corporate Web site; rather, they are hosted on individual users’ Web browers. So, what can executives do?
THE PROXY WAR: PREPARING FOR COMBAT
Today, a company’s best strategy is to recruit an active community of supporters, and to build up a reservoir of trust and goodwill that can be drawn upon when times get tough. These are the times when loyal stakeholders need to be armed with facts about the company, which must be used in the event of any misgivings.
In order to have these loyal brand ambassadors prepped and ready for battle, corporate leaders also need to fulfill the following obligations:
â–¶ Build a roof before it’s raining: A community of supporters won’t spontaneously appear out of thin air once a company is attacked. Rather, this community needs to be built and engaged over time through substantive and authentic interactions with the brand in social media channels.
â–¶ Polish all business and communications practices: Influential audiences will call companies out on every single misstep via the same social media platforms said companies must use to defend themselves. Therefore, an organization’s business processes must be solid, and the lines of communication to each stakeholder group must be well established and active. Brand’s supporters won’t rally to a company’s defense if they don’t have the facts or, worse, if they feel the company is in the wrong.
â–¶ Throw the best party in town: Ideally, corporate executives want these online conversations to happen on their own turf, as that offers the greatest opportunity to influence the conversation’s trajectory—even if said conversation isn’t instigated on their own accord. Thus, it is important for executives to build social media properties with engaging content. They must also be responsive to their audiences. If a corporate representative doesn’t answer a question, the stakeholder will find someone else who will. PRN
Daniel Bingham is VP and director of social media at MH Group Communications. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.