Social media is full of likes, pokes, hashtags and other perks and gimmicks, but every social media platform from Facebook to Twitter to Pinterest is fundamentally about communication. The medium may be different, but the messaging is the same.
“Traditional channels still work, but you may now be delivering them in 140 characters,” says Claudia Keith, Chief Communications Officer for the City of Palo Alto, CA. “Just because it’s simple and accessible doesn’t mean you wouldn’t approach it with the same thought as you would a letter to shareholders.”
And as with any communications policy inside an enterprise, business leaders must understand what their goals are, who they are trying to reach and knowing the best way to say it.
Keith and Palo Alto CIO Jonathan Reichental are two evangelists of social media, with Reichental having been recently named one of the top 100 Social CIOs. They explained on our Podcast – Why Business Leaders Should Embrace Social Media – exactly why everyone needs to finally get on board, but how to do so in a way that provides structure, security, protocols and a sense of comfort.
“I don’t want to be the social media police,” Keith said, and yet many organizations have strict policies that go against what social media is all about. Reichental comes from the private sector and has observed processes so bureaucratic and draconian that people feel it isn’t worth the effort to participate and often lose the timeliness of the message along the way.
But having protocols and accountability are important to preventing many of the risks associated with the speed and personal touch that come from social media. Keith says it’s best to have these protocols in place up front with a clear mindset of your objectives for internal and external communication.
“Who are you trying to reach, why do you think this tool is the best way, and who is going to be active on that tool?” Keith asked.
People say they need to be on Twitter, but is that where your audience is? Is that the way new digital natives within your organization want to receive their information?
For Reichental, social media has made his city government more transparent. It has helped his personal brand as well as the city’s. And yet social media has only accelerated and amplified his voice, not changed it.
“Understand that if you’re a leader, it’s highly likely that people want to know what you say and what you think about a given topic,” Reichental said. This is true of your internal staff and the shareholders and customers who want to hear from you.
As with any form of communication and social media, in particular, not everyone will be receptive, and it can be hard to get everyone to pay attention. So many leaders may still wonder, what’s the point?
“We have been able to use social media to communicate the richness and value of our community,” Reichental said. “We use social media to talk about our needs in the IT department.” No longer is PR the stepchild of an organization. Leaders now have the tools to see who is engaging with their messages and why, and it has created a sea change in the way leaders need to communicate.
“It’s time to start to be a participant of the two-way conversation,” Reichental said.