Hungry like the Woolf: The new corporate speak
Some questions have been racing through my mind recently. I met with a large TV brand and we touched on the corporate spokesperson's role in a social media world.
It led me to wonder: Has the corporate spokesperson gone the way of the dodo?
Is it a case of Darwinian's survival of the fittest, where only those who can traverse the often murky social-media landscape will survive?
And for those who are walking the talk, can they separate their personal and public brands?
Many questions for which there are many answers.
Historically, the corporate message has been sculpted in boardrooms, drilled into sanctioned spokespeople and delivered (they hoped) without deviation to a receptive media corps.
Not that this is all gone, but the era of the spokesperson may be coming to an end - or, at least - becoming a secondary means of communicating company messages.
If you believe the hype, our media-savvy consumers are flocking to alternative channels to find information.
And when it comes to dealing with corporations, they want to engage with companies on a human level, on their terms and on their turf.
While our corporate spokespeople need to keep practicing for media outreach, the need for a brand to have a spokesperson in social channels can't be ignored.
So what do we do? Not every traditional spokesperson has the ability to leap into social channels and - warning, social-media cliche - join the conversation.
The requirements of a BBS community, Facebook fans or Twitter followers are quite different from those of a journalist. Journalists aren't typically looking for long-term relationships or dialogue - they are looking for credible sources with stories to tell.
Social-media communities, on the other hand, want to hear from a human being - not a press release. Someone who tells it like it is, without bludgeoning them with overt corporate messages.
They want advice and information delivered honestly.
And this is the challenge for PR folks who realise the power of social communities. How do you find a spokesperson who can walk this fine line? How can you help someone build virtual relationships and not appear a corporate shill? And, most importantly, how do you ensure they are driving conversations that help their companies succeed? As they say, it ain't show friends, it's show business.
I think the first step is determining who the social-media spokespeople are. These need to be people who are as comfortable with a blog comment as they are with a quick tweet or creating a new thread in a forum.
I think the best social-media spokespeople will have built up a valid role in these communities. Or, if they are heading into new territory, they have the time and aptitude to do this properly. But the reality is, these folks won't typically be the spokespeople of old.
The second thing is to ensure they are supported. While one approach is to appoint a spokesperson at a social media channel and let them go, this is a potential road to ruin. Yes, some people are comfortable in social-media channels and like managing conversations.
But - and it's a big but - comfort doesn't equate to success. We expect our new social-media spokespeople to build relationships, but also help connect the community to our brand. This is where planning, calendar creation, connection with a business's marketing and communications function and ongoing coaching become critical.
The third consideration is perhaps the most challenging. Companies have for many years feverishly tried to control their brand presence. While many realise the need for social-media interaction, the very thought of putting a spokesperson into the social media wilderness terrifies many.
This is where they need to empower this new generation of spokespeople.
They need the authority to make decisions and comments in real time. This confidence will often require a change in corporate policy, real-time escalation and prioritisation and a lot of training.
To return to my original question: Is the corporate spokesperson dead? No, there will always be a role for people who can represent brands in traditional ways.
But those who rely on the media as the sole way of communicating with stakeholders need to look again at how their critical audiences make their decisions - and determine if the megaphone alone is the best path forward.
Senior vice president
Text 100 Public Relations
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