While social media has created many new opportunities for companies to connect with their audiences, it has also presented significant internal communications, legal, resource, and operational hurdles. In addition, there are evolving FTC and FDA regulations that make it even more challenging for PR, marketing and corporate communications professionals to stay ahead, let alone innovate.
To successfully adapt to the ever changing landscape, companies should establish a cross-functional digital council to centralize the ongoing management and deployment of its strategy, policies, standards, and ongoing digital training. A council would enable the company to “digitize” the skill set – and mindset – of their people while empowering them to effectively execute the company's overall vision and strategy. Here's how a digital council can operate:
Appoint digital leadership: To achieve consensus on key areas like strategy and best practices, have each operational function appoint a representative to the council. This should include representatives from PR, but also marketing, corporate communications, legal, safety, HR, and IT. Typically, there are 10 to 15 members.
Define the landscape: For the purpose of organizational clarity, agree upon the company definition of the new landscape and then select and consistently use one umbrella term when discussing the combination of technology, communications, and interaction. Examples include: digital media, social media, interactive media, new media, and online communications.
Legal guidance: The council will be responsible for reviewing current policies and creating new ones to legally engage and monitor digital channel activity. For example, healthcare companies must be sure all disciplines understand the FDA regulations and the company's guidance – as they relate to social media engagement -- for managing things like adverse events, fair balance, privacy and beyond. In addition, every company needs to train its employees on the company rules of engagement for transparency and copyright.
Establish roles and responsibilities: Because digital crosses all disciplines, the roles of PR, marketing, corporate communications, and public affairs have blurred. The council can help align disciplines and their digital efforts by identifying areas of overlap and strength. For example, the most common area of overlap is digital monitoring, while the most important is search.
Understand the company vision and social media strategy: Successful companies develop guidance so all digital efforts ladder up to the company's overall strategy. That's why it's critical to have senior executives from each discipline on the council who are passionate and knowledgeable of the company and its goals and culture.
Benchmark and measure: The council can also provide the organization with standards for benchmarking and measuring digital efforts so that every component of every digital program is measurable, and links back to strategy and business objectives.
The ongoing collaboration of a cross-functional digital council in managing a company's digital knowledge base will help ensure that the organization is on the pulse of the rapidly evolving social media environment, and potentially ahead of the competition. Finally, all employees will have an approved framework to strategically deploy digital initiatives that successfully nurture relationships with key stakeholders.
Rachelle Spero is EVP, digital media, Cohn & Wolfe