Corporations must catch up with consumers on social media

I recently spoke to a senior agency boss who relayed an educational story regarding her IT department.

I recently spoke to a senior agency boss who relayed an educational story regarding her IT department.

The head of IT had come to her in a panic because he had noticed one department in the agency was spending an inordinate amount of time on Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, et al. He was concerned people were abusing company time for nefarious, non-work-related purposes.

On investigation, the agency boss discovered the department in question was responsible for planning clients' social networking activity, so it wasn't really surprising the staff spent a lot of time on such sites.

The IT head was placated, though there was still a lingering sense that he thought this didn't count as “proper work.”

I'm sure this agency isn't the only one where corporate policies sometimes clash with the ability of PR and communications executives to do their jobs properly. Indeed, in many companies, access to social networking sites is completely banned.

What all this goes to show is that there is still a long way to go before these “new” interactive media are regarded in the same light as more traditional outlets such as The Wall Street Journal or NBC.

At a PRWeek roundtable on corporate social responsibility this week, Trenesa Stanford-Danuser, VP of global communications and strategic alliances for Origins and Ojon, revealed that Estee Lauder's CEO had recently opened up staff access to social networks at its New York offices.

This is to be applauded. As Stanford-Danuser says, “that's where our consumers are.”

Members of a company's own staff are some of its biggest advocates in the interactive online media world where communications professionals operate today.

Of course, nobody wants people wasting their time on social networks in work hours – just as they don't want them spending hours reading The New York Times or watching 24-hour news on TV.

But employees can hardly be expected to engage when they aren't even allowed access to those channels in their own workplace. The messages sent out at a corporate level must catch up with the media habits of the consumers that interact with their brands.

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