At the Conference Board corporate image and branding conference in New York last week, there was a lot of talk about how to control your brand while allowing your customers (and others) to participate in the conversation, particularly online. From crowd-sourcing to riding what Edelman svp of “insights” Steve Rubel calls the “age of streams,” it’s no longer about controlling the message with a press release, a spiffy online newsroom and one eloquent corporate spokesman. There are now thousands if not millions of spokespeople for your brand. And they are not media trained nor are their eyes on the corporate earnings report or the employee manual, page whatever, that outlines what you can and can’t say in public. This age of streams, with new trends splashing at us at dizzying speed, is not necessarily comforting to the traditional communicators who are afraid of giving up control. Linda Rutherford of Southwest Airlines spoke about how they’ve used social networks to converse with their customers with the four-fold goals of enabling, inspiring, influencing or engaging with their stakeholders. Check out their Nuts about Southwest blog and you’ll see how they’re riding the streams. Most of the conversations at the Conference Board corporate image and branding conference revolved around social media and digital communications and in my hallway discussion with attendees, it was clear that nothing is clear right now. That many of them don’t know how much time and money to spend on social media, how to engage in meaningful dialogue with customers, how to motivate employees to be brand ambassadors, and, by the way, if they give up control, where will there jobs be tomorrow? Journalists are facing the same identity crisis, as user generated content and crowd-sourcing allows media companies to provide content and engagement at much lower costs. But, quality is quality. Experience matters. Relationships bear fruit. So, going back to the title of this blog entry, a quote from Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales: “Everybody tells jokes, but we still need comedians.” PR and marketing are still relevant…So don’t get caught in the punchline — start riding the age of streams and you’ll be amazed at how much you’ll learn about your brand, your product and your ability to steer its success.
— Diane Schwartz