The New Company Spokespeople are on Social Media Sites and Instant Chats; Should Execs Be Afraid?

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When I was in college, I remember taking a Public Relations Case Studies Class. In it, we talked about the different crises of the day. “What would you do about the Tylenol tampering?” My response was usually, “I wouldn’t ask a kid right out of college.” Not the most profound of answers, I know, but the truth.

Fast-forward a few years and I’m working at a boutique agency, defending myself to my seasoned boss for not getting two placements a day (quick math, 10 a week). Not ”interests” or “sounds promising” – – actual “that will be running on Tuesday” placements. My response – to myself, my boss scared the heck out of me – was usually, “excuse me unreasonable person, you need a much more experienced person to consistently get 10 placements a week.” And for the record, I was not lacking confidence at all, 10 placements for what I was pitching wasn’t reasonable.

Compelling message, meet appropriate audience. Looking back, whether dealing with a crisis or a proactive pitch, you need to have the experience and training to be adept in creating/developing/sculpting that compelling message for that appropriate audience. I think we can all agree that makes sense. Yes?

So, why is it we are seeing more and more unskilled/untrained individuals manning (or womaning) company social media sites, Instant Chats, etc.?

This past week we saw McDonald’s get some flak for tweeting about the happenings in Cleveland. Closer to my home, my wife was trying to buy a present online with a major retailer only to learn that a receipt with the prices would be included with the gift. My wife Instant Chatted with the retailer, and received a response from the retailer tad amount to, “dude, that sucks for you.”

Understanding economics may prohibit having seasoned PR people available 24-7 to either act as a company spokesperson or respond to a “crisis” situation, it is critical to embrace the reality that those individuals who are on the Instant Chat, Twitter, Facebook, etc., are representing your company. Would you let an untrained person talk to a reporter at The Wall Street Journal? In many ways, today’s consumers are all reporters.

Make no mistake, this is by no means an indictment on the twenty-somethinger. Not at all. All I’m saying is, whoever is going to be working the new technology should understand that they are representing the company, and in doing so should consider the following:

  • Know your brand – You are not responding, your company is – – doesn’t matter if you are having a bad day, want to say something that is clever, or think the person you are talking to is unreasonable. I wrestled in high school and when we won the state cup and were presented      with jackets, I remember my coach telling us, “When you wear the jacket, you are representing Baldwin wrestling. Act accordingly.”
  • Empathize with your real audience – Why are they reaching out to you? Odds are, not to just say, hi. There probably is an issue and it was important enough for them to reach out.
  • Make sure you know what you can promise and deliver on it – You may start off as the consumer’s advocate, working with other departments within the company. Keep in touch with your customer (yes, now they are your customer) and, if possible, take the conversation off the public page until the resolution. Your customer may not agree with the outcome, but the hope is he/she (and everyone else reading the string) will understand.

A couple of years ago, I developed my current company’s Facebook and Twitter pages and responded to more than my fair share of inquiries.  Now, I have a very skilled (and I believe twenty-somethinger) monitoring and responding. She keeps me in the loop with her interactions and will ask for counsel when needed – – funny thing is, after all these years, I still think back at what my high school wrestling coach said. Still applies today.

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2 thoughts on “The New Company Spokespeople are on Social Media Sites and Instant Chats; Should Execs Be Afraid?

  1. Good stuff. It’s not your personal reputation but organization’s that’s at stake, even on social media. You can be hip but you gotta represent your employer accurately and fairly. Thanks

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