On The Edge

Imagine a camp in the dark wilderness, fire burning brightly in the center, the surrounding wilds shrouded in shadow. Management clusters around the heart, in the brightness and the warmth; they’re the camp directors, the leaders, and they keep the journey going.

Social media is, from a corporate standpoint, always on the fringes of the empire.

It’s not mainstream – probably never will be, unlike traditional Marketing, CorpComm, PR, and the lobbying machinery. Those are themselves insulated, and further insulate the core from any unpleasant voices from without. Social media, by the very nature of it’s existence, is right there on the edge, more outside the circle of firelight than in, listening to the dark, and sending back reports that are sometimes interesting, sometimes disquieting, and usually incomprehensible. The rest of the camp doesn’t really know what ‘those guys’ are doing out there, but don’t want to risk pulling them back inside – not anymore.

The world is a strange, mysterious, and dangerous place these days. The voices in the dark have grown very powerful indeed, and command more resources than anyone inside the circle of wagons had ever dreamed possible. Today, more than ever, it’s critical to post lookouts, and be ready to leap into action at the first sign of danger. Ignore the warnings too long, and you could be overrun before you even realized what was happening, a cloud of fast, nimble detractors sweeping the camp, stealing precious brand equity, and disappearing again before you could react. All you can do then is handle the aftermath of the failure.

And out there, there are others who can sense the failure, too. It draws them like vultures, to the smell of spilled blood.

Don’t mind the rather colorful imagery – that’s what happens if you spend enough time in RPGs – but I’m dead serious on the parallels. Social media is a watchdog, and it’s the one that sees the first sign of trouble. There are sometimes arguments made that companies shouldn’t be on social media (usually after a PR disaster) to remove the outlet for negative commentary, but this is the business equivalent of hiding under the blankets hoping that the monster will go away. It won’t.

Instead, what corporations need to do – and very quickly – is to put into place a social-media-recovery process that’s more fire drill than marketing process. You need marshals, you need decentralized authority and you need people who can react, with company resources, quickly and effectively.

Nestle learnt this the heard way. When negative comments started surfacing on their Facebook page, they chose to first ignore, and then suppress / ridicule. Bad idea.
On a Facebook page, every comment is equal. And if you knock them out of the field because you’re an admin, the next thing you know, there’s another field where you aren’t.

Social media is not about control. It’s an early-warning system. Long-range radar doesn’t shoot down incoming missiles, it enables the other defences to react fast enough, to. When tweets, blogs, hashtags, comments, fan pages, and videos start going against you, it’s already too late. When they’re occasional, random, disquieting statements, that’s pretty much the only time you can react, and try to steer the conversation – but more importantly, put the machinery in place internally, to handle the storm that could well be on it’s way… and ride out the worst of the damage.

What’s the worst that could happen? That you cried wolf? Think back on how that story ended.

The opinions expressed in this blog are the author’s own personal ones, and do not reflect those of his employer in an official or unofficial capacity.

Image courtesy www.forestcamping.com


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