As it relates to social media, corporate reps aren't getting the right message

In Washington, DC, a city so defined by bureaucracy, it's no surprise professional practitioners are often mired in conservative practices.

In Washington, DC, a city so defined by bureaucracy, it's no surprise professional practitioners are often mired in conservative practices. Unlike counterparts in other cities, Washingtonians cling to the more traditional methods of employing trade groups and armies of lobbyists to disseminate messages to key influencers.

Stuck using a decade-old model, these corporate reps see social media as something to be sprinkled on a communications plan, not as a primary ingredient.

This model reflects a failure to understand that viral Web 2.0 in-novations can do more to directly influence traditional media and help companies achieve their business goals than practically any other option. The more traditional methods are now being complemented co-equally - but are in some cases subsumed - by social media tools and the grassroots or-ganizations that employ them.

Take the recent UPS-FedEx showdown. In the government's eyes, FedEx is an airline, UPS a trucking company. (The distinction depends entirely on how each chose to originally incorporate, despite the fact that they essentially perform the same function.) Consequently, these two entities face differing restrictions when it comes to the ability of their employees to unionize and bargain collectively. UPS has suggested that because FedEx's employees are more limited in their corporate activity, FedEx enjoys an unfair advantage in the shipping market over its competitors, whose unionized employees have more power over corporate decision-making.

FedEx struck back with a strong counteroffensive, the "Big Brown Bailout" campaign, which certainly qualifies for the grassroots label. FedEx broke from convention, creating a Web site for the effort to act as a content aggregator, featuring heavy amounts of social media, including tweets, YouTube videos, online petitions, and blog posts. The videos are funny, which means they're also viral - they openly mock UPS via a parody of its "whiteboard" commercials, featuring a man who looks strikingly like the long-haired guy with the brown Sharpie.

The campaign lasted months and featured ads on prominent Web sites. As a result, the use of social media translated not only into traditional-media results, but directly into the promotion of policy and, more importantly, FedEx's business objectives.

Washington's lobbyists and top associations must realize they've been set in their ways for too long. They must catch on and catch up.

Today's corporate reps should pose this distinct question - What can social media do for me?

Eric Bovim is CEO of Gibraltar Associates.

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