Companies have historically relied on small groups of executives to get their messages out through mainstream news outlets. This approach, despite its flaws, has been modus operandi for much of the mass media age. Logic said the right person speaking to the right publication meant the message got through. As we know, this logic – in isolation – no longer applies.
Today's social consumers are the most media-savvy generation in history. They want more from the companies that employ them, want to sell to them, have sold to them, or seek to recruit them. Social consumers want to speak with experts who can help them make informed choices or respond when they have problems.
A recent GlobalWebIndex report found that b-to-b decision makers, for example, were highly socially engaged and rated conversations with brands on social networks as more influential than webinars, sales presentations, conferences, or corporate entertainment. The more complex the decision, the greater the need to ask questions of experts in online communities.
The challenge for many businesses is how to manage this evolution from executive spokespeople to expert spokespeople. This requires changes to job descriptions, coaching, and administration – and is a long-term play. It also means empowering more people across a business to play public roles – counter to the centralized model that's commonplace today.
At Text 100, we're managing “Digital Academy” training for our clients. These programs help people from customer support, sales, marketing, human resources, and so on use social networking channels such as Twitter and LinkedIn to support their business goals. The resulting programs see these experts blogging on corporate websites, managing communities in company discussion forums, and acting as ambassadors in external earned media communities.
In time, we'll see people from all business functions playing similar expanded roles in support of their own objectives. This is a logical next step for those companies that have developed owned media properties across Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn. Based on our experience, it's best to start with one business function, division, or product and build a program around someone with a greater aptitude for social media. Measure their success – learn from the things that didn't go well – and evolve the campaign around them.
No one said this is easy. But if companies are to meet the needs of social consumers, then having experts in online communities must become as commonplace as media interviews and press releases are today.
Aedhmar Hynes is CEO of Text 100.