Corporate Communications, Disrupted, Yet More Important Than Ever Before

Traditional Communications Disrupted: Bigger, Faster, Riskier.
The rise of social technologies over the last few years has impacted the corporate communications department the first and often most severe.  From angry bloggers to ratings and reviews these departments were some of the first to respond, and take ownership.  In fact, Altimeter’s Research (figure 6.3) indicates that 30% of Corporate Social Strategists report to Corp Comm, 41% report to Marketing, where Corp Comm may reside under.  Despite this adoption, these departments have undergone three major changes.

  • Nearly all Employees are ‘Corporate Representatives’. Both a blessing and a curse, now traditional corporate spokespersons are spread to any employee who participates in social communications –even if they don’t ‘officially’ represent the company.  Furthermore, we found in a recent survey that the average enterprise corporation has a whopping 178 social media accounts globally, the amount of communication touch points has drastically increased.  To make matters more complicated, the blur between personal and work usage of social accounts like Twitter and Facebook confused communication professionals and employees alike.
  • Companies Must Respond Faster to Customer Woes in Public. Forever gone is the days of sweeping customer complaints under the carpet, as in an easily findable ‘Google world’ corporations must address customers in public as many watch on.  Furthermore we see that the speed required to respond increase, as minor issues can escalate to larger issues within a number of hours.  Business communications is no longer limited to 9-5, but now a watchful eye has to be put in place, we see an increase of outsourcing to agencies that offer brand monitoring, community management, and real-time response increase.
  • Comunication Crises On The Rise. Lastly, our recent research peering into 50 case examples has found that social media crises are on the rise year to year (see data).  Ironically, we’ve segmented this by mentions of corporations in multiple ‘mainstream’ media rags, as those get the attention of executives and beyond.  Why this increase?  The media love to stick-it-to-the-man by telling stories of single consumers bucking a big nasty corporation, and with the pile-on-effect from social media these stories glean heavy traffic and comments.

Three Actionable Imperatives for Corporate Communications Groups
I’ve peered into many a corporate communications departments as I spend time with the world’s largest corporations and have found a trend among the most savvy.   I’ve seen three clear trends which we’ve articulated in our latest report on Social Business Readiness (slides too), which you should download and distribute today, among them are:

  1. Relinquish Mindset of Control, Instead Usher ‘Enablement’. In business school, we were taught to foster message control and encourage all corporate representatives to stay on message.  Yet today, as multiple business units from support, sales, HR and beyond participate in social technologies, communication is spread to the edges of the company –not just from executive comms.  As a result, corporate communications groups have changed their mindset to safely enabling business units to communicate, based on pre-set parameters they put in place through governance, coordination, and workflow.
  2. Roll out Enterprise Workflows; Education Programs at Four Levels. We’ve found that savvy corporations have detailed workflows, one insurance company I’ve worked with has multiple workflows in place, including sample language in which employees should respond.  Beyond creating these workflows, they must be distributed throughout the enterprise through education programs, and drilled.  We’ve found savvy corporations have up to four types of education programs spanning: Executive team, social media team, business stakeholder teams, and finally all associates.  Even if the mandate is for rank and file employees to not respond in social on behalf of the company, reinforcing education is still required.
  3. Host Mock Crises Across the Enterprise Today. Lastly, we’ve found a few savvy corporations working with agency partners have setup mock fire drills where they approach a week long crises in a number of hours in private.  Not only does this test the mettle of the organization it provides useful training so companies can respond faster, in a more coordinated approach.  We should expect compliance programs to eventually require corporations get ‘social-crises-ready’, I know of two brands that have already gone through this.

That’s my perspective on what I’m seeing in this space, would love to hear from you, what are savvy corporate communications departments doing today?

  • http://web-strategist.com/blog Jeremiah Owyang

    Blast from the past, Todd Defren remembers the “Attack of the Blogs” article in 2005. I Remember someone dropping that off on my desk when I was running social at Hitachi

    http://www.pr-squared.com/index.php/2011/11/ya-say-ya-want-a-revolution

  • http://twitter.com/rpesce rich pesce

    Great insights – thanks Jeremiah.  To your point about ‘Corporate Representatives’ coming from all areas of the business via social media, I have tried to create a divide between corporate ‘spokespeople’ (corporate communications) and brand or corporate ‘advocates’ (all other areas of the business). It’s certainly not perfect and not without complications but it has worked. Would be interested in any additional thoughts from you. Thanks!

  • http://www.bilal.ca Bilal Jaffery

    What’s interesting is to note the rising critical role of Social Media Education in mitigating risk associated with opening it up to the whole organization. 

  • http://www.microsourcing.com/disciplines/csr.asp MicroSourcing

    It’s surprising how social media has made branding and customer service more challenging than it used to be; public customer complaints have proven to be very damaging when companies don’t respond to them quickly.  

  • Rick Murray

    Hi Jeremiah.

    Great post. I think your lead paragraph sums it all up nicely when you say you’re seeing a “trend among the most savvy.” My sense is that we’re at the tip of the wedge right now, and that less than 20% of companies have advanced to this level. That’s up dramatically from 5% or so last year, but we’re still a long way from deep-rooted social literacy at the enterprise level. It will absolutely continue to trend in the right direction, and as it does, the most savvy corp comms groups you speak of will be looking to break new ground. We’re betting many of those efforts will be linked to the activation of value-creating citizenship efforts, but time will tell.

    Cheers,

    Rick      

  • http://twitter.com/MaryEggert Mary Conley Eggert

    Very timely.  The recent, widespread publicity around Penn State and the McDonald’s former egg producer suggests a new level of vigilance and training is needed within our organizations to address today’s 24×7 social landscape, where every employee is also a reporter.  If a videotape were taken within your organization, would it reinforce all that is being publicly promoted?  And, in the instance of aberrant behavior by one or two individuals, do you have the policies, training and accountability measures in place to distance your organization from such aberrant behavior and retain the public’s trust?  

  • http://twitter.com/MaryEggert Mary Conley Eggert

    Very timely.  The recent, widespread publicity around Penn State and the McDonald’s former egg producer suggests a new level of vigilance and training is needed within our organizations to address today’s 24×7 social landscape, where every employee is also a reporter.  If a videotape were taken within your organization, would it reinforce all that is being publicly promoted?  And, in the instance of aberrant behavior by one or two individuals, do you have the policies, training and accountability measures in place to distance your organization from such aberrant behavior and retain the public’s trust?  

  • http://twitter.com/commtracker CommunicationTracker

    Great post — thanks Jeremiah. What follows from your article is that there is a more need for corporates to be better wired internally than ever before. Unless that happens, there is a more risk of all these different “spokespersons” going out of synch.

    Would you want to recognize this as another actionable please?

  • http://twitter.com/SmartWoman Vicki Flaugher

    What is most fascinating to me about what I see in this field is how much companies seem to be missing/avoiding the change afoot. “Communication” is not just providing information but exchanging it. Culturally, if more corporations were wired to listen also instead of just push out controlled talking points, the shift to adopting social (and its incumbent advantages and disadvantages) would be easier. It’s one thing to drill your team/staff about responding, but it’s another to build a culture that fixes stuff and builds caring into the formula. When customers feel parrotted to, they don’t like it. They do respond really well to responses that use their chosen verbiage (the phrases they are using on social for example) through mirroring. Hard line to find, but when the way we interact with our consumer helps them to accept us as “one of us”, the easier dealing with crisis becomes. That knowledge takes listening and caring. Even mistakes can be overcome if the company is perceived as caring and in sync. It’s hard to do, admittedly, but it’s the work we have ahead of us.

    Enablement is a great phrase – hopefully pieces like this will help some of the industry to begin to implement in ways that work going into the future.

  • http://www.thestudyofsocial.com Matt Hixson

    From my experience one of the main issue seems to be that most people in the org are not on the same page on the issues, the facts or the corporate stance.  In a world where everyone has access to social channels this causes a real problem.  

  • http://windmillnetworking.com/ nealschaffer

    Thank you for this post Jeremiah – I especially like your first point, that all employees are Corporate Representatives, which is especially true in light of both how social is permeating every department in a corporate organization as well as how active most employees are on social. Most writing about social media have forgotten that Corporate Communications departments are more important now than they’ve ever been – thanks for helping remind everyone of that.

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  • http://twitter.com/jowyang Jeremiah Owyang

    Thanks for coming by Neal.   Surprisingly, many do not have policies or education programs in place. 

  • http://www.jdamico.net JDamico

    Good points, Jeremiah.  It’s nearly impossible to enable colleagues without a policy and basic education. And education must be ongoing as social media permeates the enterprise.  I’ve seen regular updates on a quarterly basis that cover basic rules, regulations and how to’s and also provide a forum for enterprise teams to share how they’re successfully applying social media.

  • http://www.endlessrise.com/ SEO Reseller

    That company having a social media team sounds like it really caters to the people using the social networking sites to communicate with the people in that said business. It’s good to know that they’re really using it as one of their channels of communication with other people.

    – Man Ray

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