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Social media - help or hindrance?

16/01/2014

Unbelievable as it now seems, there was a short period in the early 2000s when social media was dismissed as a passing fad only suitable for helpless narcissists and sheepish trend-followers.

Those halcyon days are long gone, however, and now platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are considered an important part of corporate strategy as well as a way for people to connect with friends and family.

This has advantages and disadvantages. When used properly, social media channels make it easier for firms to engage with their employees and customers, offering a direct route to conversation with potential consumers.

For instance, a recent survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) suggested that utilising online portals can improve the working habits of employees, with one in three respondents claiming it made them more responsive to customer queries.

However, as a host of companies have found out to their embarrassment, without putting suitable control measures in place this kind of marketing can lead to serious brand or reputation damage.

Because social media is fundamentally real time, it tends to be less considered than other forms of marketing or engagement - while this spontaneity can be a strength, it can also lead to scandal if used incorrectly, as it often is when put in the hands of untrained or inexperienced workers.

For instance, HMV was embarrassed in 2013 when a disgruntled employee live-tweeted a HR meeting in which 60 staff members were sacked, while Tesco, Burger King and other major brands endured social media embarrassment over the course of the year.

This shouldn't be a reason to avoid the platform entirely - overly cautious firms will be seen as old-fashioned and could fall behind their competitors when it comes to digital exposure.

However, it means that social media strategies need to be watertight, both when it comes to planning how to carry them out and with regards to bringing in the best possible staff for the job.

Although it might be tempting to simply put the Twitter feed in the hands of the intern, the reality is that doing this will often lead to disaster - particularly when it comes to dealing with the general public.

As more firms begin to adopt a new social media strategy in the hope of engaging with a wider group of consumers, it has become evident that there is something of a talent shortage in the sector, with companies competing to bring in the best social media managers.

Companies that want to avoid embarrassing episodes of damage limitation need to ensure they only use the right channels for their organisation and connect with the right people - having an experienced and skilled digital marketing team can make this far easier.