I’m lucky enough to occasionally escape the office and meet up with small businesses and sole traders in Wales and the West Midlands to talk about social media and its value within the public relations and media relations toolkit.
During these workshops I’m not only surprised at the number of businesses yet to appreciate the value of social media, but more so those that fail to realise the potential risk it has on their businesses, products and services.
At the start of each discussion I emphasise three words that they’ll hear a lot: Content, Engagement and Reputation. The last word is the one that more than often gets the first quizzical reaction from the audience. In fact, it’s almost a look of “I’m here to learn about getting ‘likes’ and ‘followers’, not talking about my reputation.”
And there lies my point. Businesses already immersed in social media, or contemplating the jump while precariously standing at the edge of the digital precipice, are all too often looking for the instant wins from social media without considering the pitfalls as they jump off the edge and into the digital abyss. Free-falling into social media isn’t a pretty sight.
Businesses that are dismissive of it risk their reputation, as are those already embracing it. I ask delegates if they have ever undertaken an online search of their business or brand, or even their own personal names (not for egotistic reasons). The answer is generally no. But once you explain and even show what others are saying on social channels, ears prick up and eyes become a bit more focussed (that’s providing they haven’t fallen asleep already).
Setting off that little gem of “who’s talking about you” ensures a sudden shuffle of chairs and scribing of notes. Yes, people are talking about your business. Hopefully in a good way, but possibly in a negative one. But did you know that? How do you handle it?
And that’s where we go off on a jaunt into the murky side of social media that many businesses fail to appreciate in that search for the most followers and likes.
Brand reputation is a priority for any business using social media or contemplating it. You cannot ignore it. Deleting comments or blocking followers is not the answer. It’ll simply set off an unprecedented chain reaction of negative and damaging comments. It might generate more followers or likes, but for all the wrong reasons. And the reputation of the business will be laid bare for all to see as it progresses virally.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. Social media is a great PR tool for gaining great exposure and engaging with new and existing customers. But when you jump off that precipice into the great digital valley, having the knowledge and ability to control the parachute to a safe landing is a must.