Making sure social media works for you

Last month I attended the annual Counselor's Academy conference of the Public Relations Society of America. This group is composed of CEOs and leaders from around the world. The two topics that captured most of the attention at conference sessions and discussions were how social media applies to business applications and online crisis preparedness. No surprise here. Personally, I am getting tired of the tons of articles and tips on social media that I get daily. But, these topics certainly can apply to most businesses here in the Truckee Meadows, so I will share a few thoughts with you.

There are still a lot of people who don't think that social media applies to their businesses. But, I challenge you. Are your customers and clients engaging in social media? How about your employees or the news media? If they are, then you should at least consider social media to promote your business.

I believe that most businesses can benefit from social media. I have heard of small companies such as dry cleaners, trucking companies and optometrists that are using social media effectively. These companies own their social networking communities because their competitors are refusing to jump into the dark waters. They are also humanizing their brand and strengthening their customer relationships because social media is all about engaging smaller and smaller groups in meaningful conversations and activities. So to any business, especially the ones that deal heavily in human interaction such as sales or consulting, I would say, jump in, the water is fine.

Simply because social media exists and millions of conversations are going on daily, online crisis preparedness becomes important as well. Most businesses focus on being ready for disasters and accidents. But according to PRSA research presented at the conference, 83 percent of companies in the United States will have an online crisis in the next five years. Are you prepared?

Social media can cause a disaster for you, even if your company is not formally participating in social media channels. Take Dominoes Pizza. Two employees thought they would be funny and posted a disrespectful video about the company on YouTube. Negativity spreads instantly and the video went viral to millions of viewers. In response, the company had to act quickly, request the video be taken down and produce a response of their own. Another crisis example is a video posted on YouTube about United Airlines breaking guitars. A disgruntled customer did not get resolution from a baggage complaint. So, he wrote and recorded a song and posted it on YouTube. The video went viral, now has 4.5 million hits and has been featured on national news. The song has also taken up cult status in social media, and there are over 50 spin-off videos that are producing even more hits. You can bet that the airline is contending with the ramifications of these videos every day.

The rules of media coverage have changed. Traditional media is declining and social media is fueling the news cycle. Now, we have citizen journalists who can post a picture, story or video within seconds of an incident. The first postings of the airplane landing in the Hudson River were posted on Twitter within five minutes and out to the media just as fast. U.S. Airways was caught off guard and had to hire a team of media experts to manage the incident.

What if there was a fire at your premises and someone was hurt? Someone could post a video on YouTube or post inaccurate facts on Twitter about the people involved or the cause of the fire. And then the local media can pick it up.

So, how do you apply social media to your business and how can you be prepared for a crisis? The first step is to get familiar with it and start participating. Before you commit to applying social media to your business, spend a little time experimenting with a personal account to discover what style and approach works best for you. Search these channels and find out who's talking about your company, your industry and your competitors: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, etc. Also, find out what additional social media is being used in your industry. There are hundreds of options in addition to the few listed here.

Just being familiar with social media, monitoring mentions of your business and knowing how to respond may be enough for now. But, if you decide to take it further, you can follow your competitors, and the companies you admire, and see what tactics are actually working. Here are a few companies that do a great job communicating in social media channels: Starbucks, Southwest Airlines, Dell Outlet, Jet Blue, IBM Events, Dunkin' Donuts, Home Depot and Scott Monty, a Ford Dealer.

Remember that the adoption of social media options is not about your communications choices, it's about your customers and your targeted audiences. To make the best use of social media tools, you have to determine which ones your customers are actually using, which can be done with a little research. You should not be the driver of new social media outlets; you should leverage existing places where your customers participate.

Over the next few years, more and more companies will take the plunge into delivering a more 'social' customer service experience; to improve communication with customers while also improving efficiency. As with any marketing function, your social media tactics should be addressed in a plan and with purpose. Make sure that most messages add value, instead of sharing what you had for breakfast.

I am not encouraging you to jump off the social media deep end. Traditional media is still a highly effective communications tool. Social media is only a part of the marketing function and a larger part of the online marketing strategy. What is great is that these new online tools are cutting the cost of communication for many marketing budgets and creating new efficiencies.

In a tough economy and business environment, companies need to look for every advantage they can find. A solid customer relationship keeping customers is the key to riding out the storm and being successful. Although social media can be a valuable tool in the marketing arsenal, make sure you are managing your present marketing function well. Long story short, organizations need to make sure that their company culture is focused on creating great and memorable experiences for customers before investing in new tools that will help them do just that.

Marlene Olsen is president of Olsen & Associates, a public relations agency in Reno. Contact her through


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment