Engage or Die: Why Your Publication Must Embrace Social Media

By Angela Connor
Managing Editor, User-generated Content, WRAL.com

Have you been watching companies thrive in the social media space by engaging and interacting with their customers? Perhaps you’re watching closely as companies like Southwest Airlines, Dell, Comcast, Ford, Starbucks and countless others build a monster presence on Twitter while the decision makers at your company can’t seem to comprehend its value. If corporate blogging is frowned upon, Facebook is deemed a lost cause and online communities aren’t even a blip on the radar, you’ve got a problem. If YouTube isn’t seen as the highly promotional tool it is, and most of your superiors have never even heard of LinkedIn, you’ve got a big problem. But what you also have is an opportunity. You have an opportunity to open the lines of communication, and build relationships in a way that was never possible before now.

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But before you can focus on building these relationships and engaging customers and potential customers online, you must first get buy-in from the top. If you have a clear understanding of the benefits of social media, a little bit of in-house evangelism can go a long way in helping you get it. But depending on your company’s culture, its hierarchical chain and where you fit in on that chain, you may find yourself hitting a brick wall. If you’ve reached that brick wall, don’t give up. Keep preaching about the benefits of social media and urging your superiors to jump in head first.

My suggestion is to simply alter your strategy. Sometimes it takes cold, hard proof to change attitudes and behaviors, so what you need to do is illustrate how getting involved in the conversation will benefit the company.

If your words continue to fall on deaf ears, you may have to alter your strategy and go with a different approach.

Here are six ideas that may help you with your mission. Use one, or use them all. And don’t stop until you have made it painstakingly clear that interaction is no longer an option, but a necessity to survive.

1. Accentuate the negative. Do a Google search and find something negative that’s been written about your organization or company. Find several. Send them in an e-mail marked “urgent.” Use bold type and write something eye-catching in the subject line such as “Oh my God, read this NOW” or “Look at these lies I found on the internet.”

2. Tout the efforts of the competition. Provide a detailed report about a competitor’s social media efforts. Illustrate how they are engaging the community and participating in a two-sided conversation. Be sure to send this information about an hour after the previous “Oh my God, read this NOW” email.

3. Recommend more than one platform. If your boss doesn’t “get” Twitter, stop pushing it. Introduce another platform and encourage participation there. This illustrates your social media savvy, flexibility and commitment to moving the organization into the current century.

4. Explain what it means to be “brandjacked.” One of the first things I say before giving a presentation is this: “If you don’t manage your online reputation, Google will manage it for you.” But that’s not the worst that could happen. Think identity theft times ten. This will surely get their attention.

5. Have a proposal ready. If you work for a company where every decision has to be made by committee, and only after a series of at least three meetings, you should try speaking their language. Once you are able to garner interest it’s important to be ready to present the benefits in a way the higher-ups will understand. So put a proposal together. Include a chart or two. Just make sure your message is clear.

6. Ask for forgiveness, not permission. (This one is only for risk takers, who feel relatively good about their job security and have a decent relationship with the powers that be.) Sometimes you simply have to act and let the chips fall where they may. Consider starting a personal blog with a disclaimer indicating that it’s your work, not your company’s. Start Twittering about nonproprietary information. Build a following and then show the results. If you can start something worthwhile, perhaps they’ll let you keep it up and hopefully build even more.

You can also start monitoring the company brand in the social media space, providing the good and the bad. Use Twitter search at search.twitter.com and Google Blog Search to see what’s being said in the blogosphere. Once you’ve gotten the green light and you plan to move forward, consider buying my new book 18 Rules of Community Engagement: A guide to building relationships and connecting with customers online. You can download a free chapter from the book on the website GrowingSuccessfulOnlineCommunities.com.

Angela Connor is the managing editor of user-generated content at WRAL.com, where she manages an online community of more than 12,000 members and heads a companywide social media task force. She is a multimedia journalist with management experience in print, broadcast and online news in Cleveland, Tampa, West Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale, author of the book 18 Rules of Community Engagement and writes the widely read blog Online Community Strategist. You can contact Angela at angeladconnor@yahoo.com.

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