Friend or Foe? Facebook Helps Turn Stakeholders Into Friends

“Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” In the context of social media, a slight variation of this famous line from The Godfather: Part II is more apropos: Keep your friends close but, your stakeholders closer. Social media has certainly blurred the line between executives’ professional and personal lives, but one platform in particular continues to challenge basic norms: Facebook. Founded in 2004 by a wunderkind who wasn’t even old enough to drink, the social network was only open to college students for the first two years of its existence. When it opened its cyber-doors to anyone with a valid e-mail address in late 2006, its collegiate ethos still lingered. Today, however, the demographics are wildly different. According to a 2009 Facebook Demographics Report, the 35-to-54 age group is the fastest-growing demographic—a nod to business executives’ rapid adoption of the platform as a communications tool. But that doesn’t mean that no questions remain as to how these executives can leverage Facebook most effectively. After all, there are so many different applications: internal communications, recruitment, coalition building, marketing, customer service—the list goes on and on. This two-part question sums it up: How should Facebook function alongside my other social media platforms, and how should it be integrated into my overall communications plan? Ultimately, the answer comes from—what else?—careful consideration of even more questions. â–¶ Who is my target audience? Understanding the personalities and preferences of your end user is key to deciding if Facebook is the appropriate tool for a specific communications initiative. To contemplate this, Shabbir Safdar, founder of Virilion, recommends asking yourself questions pertaining to three factors: • Content: What does my target audience want to hear about? • Frequency: How often do they want to hear from us? • Community: Will the target audience get value from other members of the community? “Understand that the answers to these questions are just your best guesses,” Safdar says. “If you’re measuring, you’ll quickly learn if you need to adjust and if those adjustments help or hurt.” â–¶ How will I get senior management’s buy-in? Many senior managers still think Facebook is just for kids, so to speak. As a communications professional, it’s your job to prove otherwise. “Crush the myths. Put it in their terms, and remind them that the conversation will happen with or without their [participation],” says Mike Holden, director of PR, American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence. “Sell them on the savings and show them examples of other companies [like yours] who are using it well.” (For more on best-in-class corporate users, see “Examples of Facebook in Action” sidebar.) â–¶ How do I establish a Facebook presence in the first place? “Your Facebook page is a direct reflection of the rest of your PR and marketing content,” Safdar says. “You need to either be a brand that creates a lot of content already or a brand that is comfortable with user-generated content.” Then, Holden says, “Think about your audience—some of them are meeting you for the first time. Then ask yourself what you want to share with them and what they might want to share with you. These are not always the same thing, so get them to help you.” Safdar also recommends the following best practices: • Use Fan pages, not personal accounts. • Start by filling your page with content generated by staff. • Use new Facebook widgets like Fan Box to recruit fans directly from your own Web site. â–¶ How can I listen to my stakeholders on Facebook? Like most social media platforms, Facebook is ideal for listening to your target audiences and then engaging them accordingly to the preferences they demonstrate. Julie Atherton, Worldwide Director of Hill & Knowlton’s Digital Practice, points out a few of the ways in which Facebook is used to listen and analyze: • Organizing/mobilizing • Parodying • Advocating • Issuing updates “Facebook has 300 million users; focus on specific groups, apps, pages or events,” Atherton says. “Use real-time search within the community.” â–¶ How should I engage stakeholders on Facebook? One of the most crucial things to remember on any social media platform is the specific rules of engagement. For Facebook, Atherton identifies the following: • Remember that it’s the audience’s community, not yours—play by their rules; • Ask permission to participate; • Be prepared to engage in a sustained conversation; • Offer content that is valuable, not self-serving; • Be transparent and respectful; • Be cooperative and collaborative—don’t just give feedback—solicit it; and, • Be flexible, because communities are always unpredictable. Of course, in order to engage audiences on Facebook, they have to actually be there. “Don’t expect people to just show up,” Holden says. “Engage new and existing customers. People you already know are key. Then unleash the power of viral and social actions.” â–¶ How should I deal with negative comments? “The model for handling customer service in social media has been demonstrated by Comcast on Twitter,” Safdar says, pointing to the company’s successful use of Twitter to engage unhappy customers personally and then offer them solutions. “It’s probably worth your effort to connect the unhappy user with customer service, rather than to take the time to remove them from your fan group. But you should use a terms of service/community rules note to allow you to remove blatantly offensive, off topic or spam posts.” â–¶ How can I measure and evaluate the effectiveness of my Facebook page? See “Key Facebook Analytics” sidebar. â–¶ How should I integrate Facebook into the bigger communications picture? “Use Facebook alongside other social media utilities so they strengthen one another,” Holden says. “Facebook can extend the reach and life of campaigns.” Safdar offers one more piece of big-picture advice: “Think through and ensure capacity for ongoing content and community interaction.” PRN CONTACTS: Shabbir Safdar,; Julie Atherton,; Mike Holden,

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