With companies leaping onto platforms like Yammer and Chatter to facilitate collaboration among employees, undertaking global meetings via interactive video and launching new Facebook and Twitter campaigns daily, communicators everywhere are under pressure to catch up and jump on the social media bandwagon.
I tested this hypothesis at a recent conference, asking attendees, “How many of you have felt pressure to move into social media—to launch a Facebook page or Twitter handle?” Almost every hand in the room went up. The lively discussion that ensued brought me to this: Exciting as this new world is, “to go social or not to go social” is an important consideration. By now we’re all familiar with the case for going social, so here are four circumstances that make launching a new social media channel a bad idea. They are as follows:
â–¶ When there’s nothing you can say. There are times in any company’s lifespan when, often for legal reasons, it simply cannot share information about what is going on. Mergers, sales and acquisitions fall into this category, as does the turnover of a CEO or other top executive, a major lawsuit or regulatory action and a union negotiation. Opening a new two-way communication channel right before one of these occurs is likely to raise an expectation for transparency you won’t be able to fulfill.
â–¶ When you have reason to fear what employees may say. Companies are sometimes forced to choose courses of action that employees don’t like. A layoff is an obvious example, as is a restructuring that requires employees to relocate, or a decision to outsource functions previously performed in-house. Before you launch a new channel for employees to tell you (and the rest of the world) what they think, be honest with yourself: How are they likely to feel? If the answer is “not good,” you may not want to provide a new forum where those feelings can be shared and amplified.
â–¶ When you can’t do anything with the input. Bankruptcy is an extreme example of a circumstance where a company doesn’t have much leeway over its actions; simple cost cutting is more common. Whatever the circumstances, if you invite input that you won’t be able to act on, you will create more discontent, not less. If your resources are constrained, you’re better off employing traditional, top-down channels to explain to employees what’s going on and what you’re doing to fix it—then providing regular updates on your progress.
â–¶ When your company is in a highly regulated industry. All companies are regulated, but some, like financial services and pharmaceutical companies, are more regulated than others. That’s why some pharmaceutical companies pulled their Facebook pages down when Facebook forced them to open the commenting function. According to AdAge, “Being forced to enable comments on Facebook pages puts pharmaceutical companies at risk of running afoul of the current Food and Drug Administration regulations, even if it’s only consumers making the comments.”
For instance, if a company has a branded page for an antacid, and a consumer comments that it helped lower his blood pressure as well, that’s considered off-label promotion and the FDA could conceivably send a warning letter to the company. Before launching a social media channel, make sure you understand the regulatory environment within which your company functions.
When deciding whether to launch a new social media channel, it’s important to consider these basics:
• Who is your target audience? If you have more than one, which is most important to you in the long run?
• What do you want them to feel and do based on this information?
• How are they likely to react?
• Are there any legal or regulatory issues involved?
• Is there anything going on right now —in the company and in the world—that might make doing this a better or worse idea than it was six months ago?
Whether you decide to go social or stick with traditional channels for now, we all need to remember that social media has transformed the world in two profound ways.
First, the line that once separated internal communications from external communications no longer exists. Second, information will travel faster than you think. With “share this” buttons on everything, the lie that could travel halfway around the world while the truth was putting on its shoes in Mark Twain’s day can now circle the globe half a dozen times before the truth even realizes the lie exists. PRN
Beth Haiken is a senior VP at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide in San Francisco. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.