6 June 2012 By Northern Lights
When I joined Northern Lights PR in January 2011, Victoria and the team were just embarking on a mission to prove ‘why you can’t ignore social media in business’.
At that time, the consumer market was rolling out some creative, high volume campaigns using Facebook, Twitter and other platforms but there were few B2B case studies demonstrating tangible business outcomes. Meanwhile, the battle over who ‘owned’ social media – advertisers, marketeers or communicators and reputation managers – was still being faught.
Lawyers, accountants and CEOs were looking at campaigns that generated thousands of ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ and asking ‘where’s the business leads? How will this impact on our reputation? How do we convert the interest into real, trusted client relationships?’ They also had major concerns about how much the etiquette and ethos of social media – openness, sharing, engagement – was at odds with how they traditionally work.
As a Managing Partner said at a workshop we presented at ‘if the consumer market is about simple messages to mass audiences, the B2B market is about complex messages to niche audiences.’
18 months later and the way I do my job as a PR and communications professional has completely changed – and I couldn’t have had a better training ground than Northern Lights. While the big agencies were ‘outsourcing’ everything digital to their ‘social media gurus’, we forced ourselves to really understand the impact of evolving communications channels and platforms on business. But most importantly, we never lost sight of the fact that high quality content and relationships comes first and just needs to be tailored for different media.
I’m now moving on from Northern Lights to work for myself and am taking a number of valuable lessons with me that will help me be at the forefront of this new communications and business landscape.
Here’s three reasons why I think social media has given greater credibility to communications in business – and will make it easier for people like me to influence at board level in the future.
1. The content competition
Social media allows anyone to publish anything at any time online to a global audience. That’s a lot of information. The only way to wade through it and find the nuggets and hidden gems is to find trusted sources of high quality, useful, accessible, meaningful content that adds something new to the debate.
In the past, businesses did a lot of communicating ‘at’ people. Content (for print, web and the media) was a ‘nice to have’. When times were tough, it could go on the back burner and existing materials would do. Now, if you don’t have something to say to the outside world, you’ll be seen as a closed book – and your clients and customers will go on push on the open door of your competitors.
2. The fear factor
Whilst I’m an advocate of quality engagement over quantity of traffic when it comes to digital communications, the sheer volume of people embracing web 2.0 in such a short space of time can’t be ignored by anyone in business – especially at board level. Suddenly, chief execs and FDs are waking up to the fact that a revolution is taking place and if they ignore it, they will be wiped out by a next generation of business people who are not scared of embracing this brave new world. There is a feeling that opportunities are being missed and major threats being ignored, but addressing them head on is out of many senior people’s comfort zone. Rather than taking a punt, many businesses are sensibly calling in communications experts to offer strategic advice and direct those with the ability to manipulate the technology.
3. The anecdotal evidence
That lightbulb moment with even those most cynical about social media in business almost always comes not from the facts and figures but the stories and anecdotes that bring it to life. Social media has demonstrated the value of storytelling in business – something communications professionals have been trying to gain greater credibility for since the beginning of time. It has always been a ‘nice to have’ now it is a case of if you don’t have a compelling story to tell, you will soon become irrelevant.
Social media has shown that communications in business is as much about substance as it is about style. Natural communicators are no longer being dismissed as having ‘soft’, ‘nice to have’ skills. They are key influencers at all levels of business – from the senior management team to the ‘front line’. And because digital communications is so cost effective, ‘cash’ and ‘content’ can share the throne as ‘king’ of the business world.
What do you think? Am I overly optimistic about the future credibility of communications in business?