The Myth of Control in New Media

One of the most common fears I focus on defeating among executives and brand managers is that in new media brands lose control by publishing content and engaging in social networks. The general sentiment is that by sharing information and creating presences within public communities that they, by the nature of democratized participation, invite negative responses in addition to potentially positive and neutral interaction. By not fully embracing the social Web, many believe that they retain a semblance of control. The idea is that if brands abstain from providing a forum for hosting potentially disparaging commentary, it will prevent it from earning an audience – in this case, an audience that can impact the business and the reputation of the brand.

However, retaining control, following the socialization of the Web, is nothing more than pure legend. While many companies retain control during the stages of defining and shaping messages, control is relinquished at the point of distribution. Once messages are published, they are at the mercy of consumers, peers, and influencers online and offline.

So I continue to ask…

If a conversation takes place online and you’re not there to hear it, did it actually happen?

Without participation, perception and sentiment are free to wander and influence those with whom it touches.

The truth is that in the era of new media, we are all brand managers, responsible for its stature, resonance, and direction. While we may not retain control, we now have the ability to shape and steer impressions, answer questions, solve problems, and engender appreciation. And in the social web, brands are now expected to humanize and connect directly with everyday denizens to convey purpose, establish goodwill, and reassure communities that their voices are heard. It’s not enough to simply give the brand a voice. People align with the people, prowess, and promises they can believe in. We are now expected to breath life and personality into our brand in order for it to earn the attention and interest of those we wish to reach.

Proactive shepherding the brand in influential communities begets positive interaction and in many cases, it extinguishes unforeseen crises before they ignite. It’s the art and science of sculpting presence. As such, many organizations are establishing a role or augmenting existing responsibilities to encompass ORM (online reputation management). As Forbes recently alluded, perhaps it’s time for a Chief Reputation Officer.

Econsultancy and BigMouthMedia published a report, Social Media and Online PR, to assist marketers embrace ORM.  The report is based on a survey of more than 1,100 companies carried out in September 2009. Respondents include client-side digital marketers and communications professionals, as well as digital and PR agencies.

Methods Used by Companies Worldwide to Minimize the Impact of Online Negative Comments About Their Brand, Products, or Services

47% – Directly engaged with publisher/blogger to rectify issues or address negative experience

33% – Attempted to improve products and services in order to reduce or eradicate negativity

24% – Encouraged others to speak more positively about us

17% – Issued and distributed press releases or comment to address issue

14% – Attempted to get offending content removed by publisher/blogger

12% – Created content to push offending results down search engine rankings

30% – None of the above

5% – Other

There are two stats that caught my attention in particular.

First, over one-third, 35%, reported that they do not embrace any of the afore mentioned response strategies to steer negative towards neutral or positive.

Second, another one-third of respondents vowed to improve products and services in order to invest in positive experiences and more effectively compete for the future.

Not surprising however, most of the other tactics were aimed at either distracting people or burying content.

Ways that Companies Worldwide use Twitter

62% – Publicizing new content

54% – Marketing channel

47% – Brand monitoring

27% – Reacting to customer service issues and inquiries

25% – Gathering customer feedback

23% – Market intelligence

14% – Sales channel

11% – Human resources

4% – Other

21% – None of the above

I once asked whether Twitter was a broadcast or conversation channel or both? According to these numbers, they appear to portray Twitter as yet another broadcast mechanism similar to the wire services that catapulted press releases into a vastness of irrelevance. We earn the relationships and define the dedicated communities and ultimately the authority and trust we deserve.

It’s encouraging, however, to see that almost half of those who participated in the survey monitor the state of their brands on Twitter. While low, 27% is a very promising representation of what will only grow in 2010, the integration of rapid response systems to issues and inquiries. Combined with the 25% currently focused on gathering customer feedback and 23% to garner market intelligence, brands will evolve and adapt from the inside out, creating more empathetic and in tune organizations that live and breathe based on the health of and emerging opportunities within their markets.

Also, please be sure to embrace a proactive form of brand asset management, securing company, product, and service brand names as well as important executives responsible for steering and growing the company. Services such as Knowem.com (disclosure, I advise them on services) facilitate automated username and profile acquisition and establishment across hundreds of existing social networks as well as ensuring brands are actively protected with every new network that appears.

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ABOUT ME

Brian Solis is a digital analyst, anthropologist, and also a futurist. In his work at Altimeter Group, Solis studies the effects of disruptive technology on business and society. He is an avid keynote speaker and award-winning author who is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders in digital transformation.

His most recent book, What's the Future of Business: Changing the Way Businesses Create Experiences (WTF), explores the landscape of connected consumerism and how business and customer relationships unfold in four distinct moments of truth. His previous book, The End of Business as Usual, explores the emergence of Generation-C, a new generation of customers and employees and how businesses must adapt to reach them. In 2009, Solis released Engage, which is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to market, sell and service in the social web.

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