The eight ways social media impacts your business

Published on Monday 27 August 2018


If there’s one thing trainees on our Taylor Bennett Foundation programmes quickly discover, it’s that a lot of people in PR talk about social media, a lot.

Certainly the rise of Facebook et al has thrown up all sorts of opportunities and challenges for anyone and everyone who communicates on behalf of a company. And I do mean everyone, and not just those people specifically managing social media channels for brands and businesses.

Because however prolific a company may or may not be itself on the social networks, social media need to be a key consideration when developing any comms strategy in 2014. Because social impacts on a company in an assortment of ways. Here are the key eight ways I discuss with the TBF trainees each programme…

1. Social media as media.
Thanks to social media platforms, anyone can become journalist, editor and publisher, and while blogging has been around for over a decade, never has the blogosphere been so prolific or influential. Meanwhile, via Twitter especially, celebrities have inadvertently become influential commentators. If you’re in the business of online media relations, at what point do you treat bloggers as media? And do you service them in the same way as other online journalists

2. Social media as a channel to journalists.
Even if you’re primarily working with print media, social media, and especially Twitter, are increasingly important. Journalists and editors are, in the main, prolific tweeters, and following and interacted with hacks online is an increasingly good way of building those all important media relationships, as well as keeping up to speed on what reporters, commentators and columnists are focusing on and writing about.

3. Social media as a channel to existing consumers.
For some brands social media is already a primary channel for talking to customers – with both Twitter and Facebook utlised in this way. This is pretty straight forward if you have a web-savvy consumer base. The challenges, though, are in who should control the Twitter feed and Facebook page – PR, marketing, customer relations? – and what are the rules the employees doing the tweets and Facebook updates should follow?

4. Social media as a consumer recruitment tool.
This is where it gets interesting. Will a social media presence alone recruit new consumers? The realistic answer is “probably not”. But that’s not to say social media can’t be really powerful here. First, for some products and audiences uber-targeted Facebook ads can work, though that’s for your colleagues in advertising. On the PR side, where social media can come into its own is that it can help you encourage and enable your existing customers to become brand ambassadors, giving you more control over that all important word-of-mouth marketing we’ve all spoken about for years. How? Well, that’s a content challenge, not a technical one, and perhaps I’ll return to that topic one day – or you can come on my social media course and I’ll tell you!

5. Social media as a forum for dealing with complaints.
Yes, good use of social media is about listening as well as talking. One more for customer relations than traditional PR perhaps, but some companies are doing great things monitoring complaints being aired on social networks and – where feasible – dealing with those complaints there and then without actually being asked for help by the customer. When it happens, there’s still enough novelty to this kind of customer service that the complainer often immediately becomes a brand ambassador. Though, for big companies with big customer bases, there are clearly resource issues here, especially if customers come to expect automatic and immediate responses whenever they complain online.

6. Social media as a channel to other stakeholders.
What other stakeholders can be, or demand to be, communicated to via social media? The political community are increasingly prolific online, though perhaps they see this as a forum for talking to their constituents and not those in public affairs? And what about the investment community? Research suggests this audience is currently less influenced than most by tweets, Facebook alerts and blogs, but is that likely to change?

7. Social media as a forum for monitoring opinion and response.
Similar to five, though perhaps more relevant to those in corporate comms rather than complaints. Can we use social media to spot trends, to lean about attitudes and opinions to us and our competitors, and to spot potential issues or crises in their early stages? And if so, how can use this information for commercial benefit? And how do we learn to ignore the continuous hum of constant but non-dangerous online hate that big and/or controversial companies and brands will find when they go online, without losing the ability to spot real issues? And what are the ethics of listening in this way? This is probably the area where most is still to be learned.

8. Social media as the enemy.
Another challenge for the corporate comms team. Social media is great in the way it equips companies with powerful, easy-to-use and often free communication tools, enabling them to reach a global audience immediately. But, of course, the same tools are open to everyone, giving pressure groups and single-issue-campaigners a more level playing field when it comes to the tools to speak to large and influential audiences. It’s one of the greatest things about social media, but for companies it can be terrifying. What’s your policy on these groups, do you interact, and if so when and how? Again, lots to be learned, though every time a company goes through a major crisis – and faces a new group of increasingly loud and influential social-media-enabled online critics – we learn some more.