According to comScore four out of five internet users visited a social networking site in December 2009. This makes social media a natural platform for PR practitioners to use to help reach their audiences.
But just because the platform is such a large one does that make it the right one to use or does that make it even more dangerous for PR practitioners and companies? I decided to look at a few social media successes and failures to see just what impact it can have.
Dell is an example where social media has been used effectively. The company tapped into Twitter in 2007 and, at first, used it as a one-way channel to communicate with customers. They then discovered that people were genuinely interested in interacting with them and found they could actually use it for two-way communication (or symmetrical public relations as Professor Grunig calls it).
They now use it to post exclusive deals and offers to their Twitter followers and avoid making excessive updates that could be seen as spam. They also use search to find out exactly what their customers are interested in and what they’re not. Dell claim that they have made over $3 million in revenue which can be attributed to its use of Twitter alone.
So this is obviously a case where social media has worked extremely well for a company, resulting in increased revenue, awareness and generally better relationships with its customers.
Another example of where social media has been put to good use is Oscar Mayer’s ‘Good Mood Mission’ campaign which aimed to deliver £2million of food to families in need. This used a Facebook page to link to the website and for every person that posted their ‘good mood’ they would donate a pound of food towards the campaign total.
However, social media does not always go so well for a company. Earlier this month mobile phone giant Vodafone almost took a fatal blow to its reputation when an employee updated the company’s Twitter page saying “VodafoneUK: is fed up of dealing with dirty homo’s and is going after beaver”.
This instantly sparked a debate on Twitter over what could have caused this update and whether the Vodafone account could have been the victim of a hacker. The incident could have potentially been extremely damaging for the company’s reputation had they not reacted so speedily in apologising for the tweet. Vodafone replied to every person who had made a comment about the tweet and said “We weren’t hacked. A severe breach of rules by staff in our building, dealing with that internally. We’re very sorry”. The fact that Vodafone responded to the incident so promptly and with such honesty and decisiveness, I feel, helped to limit the damage that was caused.
Sometimes companies are not so lucky when it comes to social media blunders. When a Habitat intern decided to try to promote its spring sale in 2009 by hash tagging currently trending topics including the Iranian Presidential Election, Apple and the iPhone, the shameless stunt was met with fury and outrage from many Twitter users. They rightly saw it as a pathetic attempt at trying to hijack the latest topics just to gain attention and accused the company of spamming on Twitter.
Some examples of the resulting comments:
- ‘@HabitatUK Spamming news of important events. You must be so proud’
- ‘Its hard not to label @HabitatUK as a spam-bot. Terrible thing to do to a premium brand.’
- ‘Terrible marketing behaviour!! RT @HabitatUK #iPhone Our totally desirable Spring collection now has 20% off!’
- ‘Agree with @drewm & @roshorner, sad day when a reputable brand resorts to using trend hash tags to advertise. Technically Spam @HabitatUK’
However instead of reacting speedily and apologising for the mistake Habitat simple deleted all of the tweets and replaced them with same-old generic ones. A spokesperson for Habitat did eventually apologise for what had happened but the damage had already been done and, to some, Habitat will now always be seen as a pushy brand that is just interested in getting its latest promotional message out there at any cost. That they would hash tag something as controversial as what was going on in Iran in which at least 12 people died is outrageous and has certainly put me off them.
The rise of the blogger infuencer
It’s not just Twitter and Facebook that need to be considered when looking at social media; bloggers are becoming increasingly influential when it comes to companies’ reputations and the success of campaigns. Some bloggers are seen as being so influential that they are given similar treatment to journalists in that PR practitioners will send them press releases and invite them for press trips as they would do with journalists.
Many people are increasingly turning to certain blogs for advice on everything from where to go on holiday to which is the best bank. Just as people tend to believe what they read in newspapers more than what companies put out there, people are starting to believe what bloggers have to say as well as they see it as being ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ and not just following a corporate agenda.
So just because the platform is such a large one does that make it the right one to use or does that make it even more dangerous for PR practitioners and companies? This does not seem so easy to answer after looking at these case studies.
On one hand social media can work well and be an incredible success; on the other hand when it’s done badly it can be extremely damaging for a company’s reputation and prove very hard to recover from.
So should this put PR practitioners off using social media in their campaigns? I think the answer is no, it has been proved that it can work as long as it is well planned and thought through. Simple common sense should prevail when dealing with social media.
Don’t hash tag something as controversial as what is going on in Iran or something that is totally irrelevant to your brand, make sure your communication is relevant to the people you’re communicating with and don’t spam them.