I received a very thoughtful comment from David Wescott, author of a fairly new blog, It's Not a Lecture, on my recent post, What's Next on the Social Media Horizon. I wanted to share his comment for two reasons: First, I think he has some good ideas that are useful for all of us, and second, because I want hear what the readers of Communication Overtones have to say.
Another question for you – how often do you work with clients on a confidential basis? This may come as a surprise — and to be honest, runs contrary to the nature of the medium — but most of the work I do I'm really not allowed to discuss publicly. As you know, much of what I do is squarely in the political arena but on behalf of corporate or non-profit clients. While I've had some great experiences and successes, I've been struck by two things:
First, a fear-based reaction by some who just don't want to engage in social media or the blogosphere because they don't feel they'll ever get a fair shake; and second, several clients who want to reap the benefits of participating in the discussion but also controlling and even screening it. Let's just say they're not happy when I tell them you can't control multiple sides of a conversation.
I'm completely convinced these attitudes exist in the marketing and advertising space, but when you add politics and issues management (and even crisis communications) to the mix, the stakes are higher and the fear is greater.
Is this something you've experienced?
I deal with it mostly by trying to convince the client to take baby steps – for example, just invite a blogger to an existing press conference, or work within groups where we know the environment is relatively safe. Get some small successes and build the comfort level. However, I also see the truth you and so many others have repeated — companies (and others) don't control their brands (or issues) any longer. Refusing to engage has just as many risks. I essentially provide them with mock-up scenarios — one if they choose to engage, and one if they don't. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
Have you had to deal with situations like this? How have you handled it?
Here is my answer:
For some of my clients confidentiality is paramount. I have signed my share of non-disclosure agreements. However, I often share the concepts I have learned from these experiences (without the details). Luckily, some of my clients do not mind me sharing case studies, and also bringing them some kudos.
As for fear, everyone in these circles feels some trepidation when putting themselves out front with these new tools. And they would be remiss not to feel some concern, given the way that companies have been pulled limb from limb in the social media sphere, in blogs, on YouTube, etc. However, the public is pretty smart and can temper extreme negative criticism with reality. I explain to clients, as I always did in crisis communication, that it is better to be a part of the conversation rather than the brunt of it. I did write a post about the Top 10 Risks of Blogs that outlines some of the worst fears and their chances of happening. However, I would have to agree that baby steps are often good advice and I advocate a three-step process:
- Active Listening: To include monitoring and joining in some conversations in comments
- Outreach: To include reaching out to specific bloggers and other content creators
- Participation: Launching a blog, providing content through photo sharing sites, recording a podcast, etc.
The last step can be as comprehensive or as limited as a client wants, but it should be directly tied to their business goals so that they can see immediate results, and thus reduce the fear factor. Some of the focus group research I have conducted shows that people trust a site more if is HAS some negative feedback on it. Now, that is some food for thought.
What do you think?