The Evolving Role of Social Media In Business & Society

February 1st, 2012 by Rob Goodman

 

Social media may well go down as one of the more significant inventions in history. It probably too soon to tell, but it may well be on the same scale as the invention of the Guttenberg press which democratized the sharing of information. Look at the Arab Spring in 2011 which, via Twitter and other social sites, helped people in countries like Egypt and Libya share video images and commentary from countries that rarely, if ever, show public displays of dissent.

Companies of all shapes and sizes now use tools like Twitter and Facebook to connect with customers and streamline how their companies operate. While the benefits of social media have been hard to measure, companies are beginning to see tangible results by using social media. I just read a research paper titled “When Social Meets Business Real Work Gets Done” that talks about the importance of “socializing marketing and sales assets to reduce search costs and redundant work.” The paper, authored by Andrew McAfee, a principal research scientist at the MIT Sloan Center for Digital Business and the AIIM Task Force on Social Business and Innovation, goes on to say that “more than 60 percent of firms who did invest in collaborative frameworks achieved big gains in knowledge sharing and communication accuracy between marketing and sales.”

Another example of the importance of social media came just last week. Citizens were able to send in questions for the President to answer following the recent State of the Union address via social media site Quora. A special page was set up to live-stream video of President Obama’s address and asked users to submit and follow questions about economic and domestic policies. How often do average citizens get to connect in a one-on-one fashion with the leader of the free world?

Yet social media has also opened a Pandora’s box of other issues.

Is private information shared via a social media outlet considered public news? For example, the recent death of Penn State’s head football coach, Joe Paterno, was erroneously reported on a student-run website called Onward State. While news organizations love to get the first to report the news, it’s critical to actually get the news right. This is an obvious goal of any news site but with instant access to information comes the responsibility of news sites and other organizations to be held accountable. In the case of the snafu by Onward State, the Associated Press cited the need for “conditions of accuracy” when the editors decided not to run the story of Coach Paterno’s death since it couldn’t get proper confirmation.

For PR pros the continued growth of and reliance on social media as a way to broadly share information has created an interesting dilemma. Some editors want to be contacted via phone calls and e-mails (in other words the traditional means of communicating). Other editors are social media proponents. Regardless of the method to contact others or share information, PR folks like us need to remember some of the core principles of media relations and journalism. In other words, get your facts straight and your story right!

To me the best use of social media for our tech clients is two-fold: create a dialogue with customers that builds brand awareness and preference, and address crisis management issues quickly to eliminate rumors and innuendo. What about you? How have you adopted social media as part of your ongoing PR campaigns?

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