Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Is Social Media Really that Risky?

I spent the last few days with many of my Navy Public Affairs friends at our community's annual symposium (for those that don't know it, I'm a Navy Reserve PAO). Social Media was the hot topic and with that comes discussion of risk. Chief of Information, Rear Admiral Frank Thorpe (aka: my boss) encouraged all of us to take the risk and push deep into the frontier that is Social Media.

Social Media carries its own risks, to be sure. But I'm not sure that convincing the boss to simply take on more risk is going to be a winning argument for communicators. I'm also not convinced Social Media is as risky as it feels.

Why? Big companies and the military are risk averse. That's how they survive. Risk is eliminated or reduced to the point where the good from the mission outweighs the bad of the attempt. In a dynamic environment (combat, business, communications, etc.) control reduces risk. The conventional wisdom is that you have to accept reduced control over communications in order to be really good in Social Media spaces.

My earlier post Making the Case for Corporate Social Media I suggested that you get more control with social media than you get with traditional media relations. Take a look:

One of my clients announced it was closing one of five production lines at a plant in Maryland. One of my tasks was monitoring the chatter on Social Media networks. A reporter tweeted that the entire plant was closing and people started to re-tweet that information. Because we were engaged in that environment, we were able to get to that reporter in nearly real-time and correct the message. The reporter sent out a corrected tweet and asked people to re-tweet it. And they did. He also corrected his online story within a few minutes.

We could have just as easily connected directly with anyone and gave them the correct information. Engagement gave us control.

The persuasive argument for Social Media engagement is, "Boss, I have a way to give us better control over our message and our connection to the people who matter to us!"

But, I will admit that there is some romance in the "accept more risk" argument. After all, sailors are intrepid souls by nature. So, if the "control" argument doesn't work this quote may help:

"The sea is dangerous and its storms terrible. But these obstacles have never been sufficient reason to remain ashore." Ferdinand Magellan

See you on the water.

Bill Salvin

1 comment:

  1. Bill,
    I didn't know you were in the Navy! I am getting ready to work for a Navy PAO down at CENTCOM ... (Capt Hanzlik?). I will likely be the Chief of PA Plans to start out.

    Here's what I think are the main issues associated with "Social Media" right now, and some of these are self-inflicted by well-meaning PAOs.

    1- We shouldn't "do" Social Media: by that I mean, too many people look at SM as an objective -- it's not; it's a tool. But what's it a tool for? One of the smartest things I heard someone say about this was a guy who said, "I'm not going to talk to you today about social media... I am going to talk to you about our organization's communication challenges and how we are using social media to meet those challenges".

    Look at your example: that company wasn't (or at least their success didn't come from doing) a twitter feed ... they were monitoring twitter to see what people were saying, which is much better than pumping out a lot of useless noise on twitter.

    2- It's not Social Media; it's "Electronic Community Relations". This is one I feel strongly about. Too many of us are looking at Social Media where the noun is "Media" so we come at this with our same media viewpoint -- we have themes and messages and things WE want to TELL you. When the noun is "relations" we realize that what we are about is building relationships... This is why i get ticked off getting a facebook message "hey, want to be Fort Belvoir's friend?" ... well, NO.

    3- many of the same rules still apply. People seem to think that when you are on SM you don't have to stick to your lane ... you can make fun of people or make comments like "yeah, that guy doesn't get it". You can, but you should do that with your OWN facebook or twitter feed, not when you are the official spokesperson for an organization.

    Okay, sorry about the long post -- I just got into the states from Korea for a PCS move and have jet lag real bad...

    Look me up on facebook if you want ... I am the Mike Lawhorn on the great wall of China.