The more things change…

March 26, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Long before anyone ever thought about a computer, public relations practitioners were warning clients that the best way to manage crisis communications was to prevent the crisis.  The Web and social media makes that advice more urgent than ever.

Jay Deragon, a management consultant and social media strategist, recently wrote about social media as a management crisis (http://tinyurl.com/yhlpz54), expressing concern that executives aren’t taking the time to truly understand the impact of social media on how they do business. He talks about the ability of people to organize and affect an organization’s reputation using social media, and points out that failure to understand the impact of social media and to prepare for its use is a recipe for disaster. Interestingly, he points out that social media attacks can be internal as well as external, and points out that those who run companies must be willing to learn, to grow and to change.

“Social media represents a velocity of change that requires new knowledge to be applied to internal and external dynamics which are revolutionizing how markets operate,”  he writes. “The empowerment people get from social media is akin to dropping a match into a pool of gasoline, kaboom! As soon as you marshal the resources to put out the fire another one starts. Managing by distinguishing fires is not managing.”

Deragon does not call himself a public relations person. This, however, is what PR people have been telling management for years. In 1946,  Arthur Page, a PR pioneer, said, “Any concern that does business with the public is in a public business. It is subject to regulation in many ways — (including) by the public’s giving or withholding patronage, and by public praise or blame from the press, radio, political leaders.”

People don’t need the press, radio and political leaders to express their disapproval or anger any more. As public relations counselors, it’s incumbant on us to make sure our clients understand that social media is not only a great way for us to link directly withour constituents to sell them something or convince them of our point of view, it’s a way for our constituents to let us know what they think. Public relations always has been about two-way communications, but it’s always been tough to get the client to buy into the “listening” part.

Deragon’s point, I think, is that today’s managers and executives better understand that listening, responding and doing things the right way are where success starts.

I don’t believe you can prevent the fires from starting. One of the downsides of social media is that it doesn’t require that people tell the truth. Angry comments and accusations are “vetted” publicly and that’s too late. Those of us protecting corporate reputations deal with a certain element using social media because of buyer remorse, a desire for something they’re not entitled to or just plain petulance.

By doing business ethically and transparently, and by listening to constitutents, it’s possible to keep the fires under control. Deragon’s point — that managers need to understand the power of social media to keep it from being used to stoke the fires — is a good one. And while in the world of crisis management, social media is just one hazard, he points out how great that hazard is and how we need to help our clients understand why they can’t dismiss social media as something that doesn’t apply to them or that doesn’t change how they do business.

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Entry filed under: crisis communications, Dealing with social media, reputation. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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