September 30, 2013—Toronto’s edition of Social Media Week has come and gone and, with it, the predictable bouts of breast-beating about social media’s huge potential and wailing about its huge disruptive capacity. Both are no doubt true, but what emerges above all else is the fact that social media is here to stay, driving communication strategies. With clients often ahead of the game in this field, communication strategists (as well as practitioners) must adapt or perish.
Adapting shouldn’t be difficult. Any corporate communication strategist needs to know what levers to pull in order to implement an outreach and engagement strategy. The particular lever-pulling depends, of course, on the audiences you’re trying to reach as well as the timing, sequencing, and context of your actions. Not to mention the communications culture of the company or organization you’re representing.
Until fairly recently, social media was seen by many as an adjunct to traditional communications channels employed to “get the message out”. Paid advertising, media relations, event creation, print or audio or video platforms, and other tools were the bread and butter of communications delivery. Social media was categorized as something nice to have, an interesting extra but not an essential.
Many simply did not understand or foresee the immense potential of social media. The financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing slump in North America and Europe also led to forecasts that social media use would sink with the economy. What happened, though, was that savvy communicators embraced social media as a low-cost alternative to traditional media in positioning or messaging.
Today, social media has moved to the centre of serious communication strategies. It is hard to conceive of any reputation management or corporate positioning without social media playing a key role. This is not about “getting the message out”; it’s about engaging with audiences so that a two (or more)-way dialogue takes place. This is fundamentally why social media is proving to be a game-changer. And, there is ample evidence to show that it works.
Traditional media serves well to raise awareness about a product or service or cause. Exposure to information is a first step but we all know that dialogue is key to really engaging audiences. It’s engagement across time that leads to commitment, hopefully sustainable, to a certain brand or belief. That’s the holy grail of communications today: using social media, integrated with traditional media, to drive audience adherence to the values, products, and services that a company or an organization represents.
The sessions at Social Media Week 2013 that I attended were filled with well-meaning practitioners examining the virtues of LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+, and so on. That’s the point – they were examining the virtues, not doubting them. While some got carried away (i.e., predicting the end of newspapers within 20 years, with all news delivered on mobile platforms), most recognized the obvious: social media is no longer an upstart but rather a full suite of communications channels that, properly used, can lead and sustain any successful communication strategy.