Is Social Media Coming of Age As a Brand Communications Channel?

I remember when you could be utterly stupid without the world finding out”, was just one response to the Justine Sacco saga, but it puts in a nutshell the enormous impact of social media in launching or burying a career. No matter how impressively Sacco’s CV may read, her ‘utterly stupid’ twitter regarding Africa and the AIDS virus will now forever be what defines her PR abilities. As a marketing tool, it is this type of vulnerability that still prevents some companies from using social media as a form of communication.

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As a means of addressing the justifiable concerns of those companies wary of launching into cyberspace, Broadgate Mainland assembled an impressive group of experienced cybernauts to navigate the debris left behind by reckless travellers. Dr Paul Dwyer is a senior lecturer at the University of Westminster; Suzanne Tyrell holds the position of senior associate at the international law firm Taylor Wessing and Jo Faith is editor of Yourmoney.com. This formidable panel challenged the most common concern among companies regarding the risks and pitfalls of using social media to communicate.

As Justine Sacco can attest, a social media faux pas is subject to the swiftest form of justice that can include global condemnation and a harsh, long-term sentence, which is certainly not a palatable scenario for marketing strategists. However, the general consensus of the panel was that, used correctly, the importance of social media as a communications channel in PR campaigns cannot be ignored or underestimated. Jo Faith points to the inescapable pervasiveness and growing relevance of this form of connectivity, while Paul Dwyer highlights the need to entertain a global audience with imaginative and creative content and voice tone. What was also agreed upon was the need for effective controls.

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Avoiding libellous content requires a clear corporate social media policy that does not restrict freedom of expression or creativity, but sets ‘clear parameters on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.’ According to Tyrrell, 60 per cent of companies do not have such a policy and this is what makes them vulnerable. Close monitoring of social media highways should be standard PR practice and supervision of a company’s online brand should include providing a forum for comment and posting replies to inaccuracies. If this is skilfully done in a positive and friendly manner, then social media will indeed come of age as a brand communications channel.

Mark Knight is a Director at Broadgate Mainland the London PR firm.

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