This past week, I attended the New Communications Forum, birthplace of the Society for New Communications Research. It was my first visit (finally) to this event, and as expected there was lots to learn, discuss—and ask. Here are some impressions of the sessions I attended, along with samples of in-the-moment Twitter commentary:
Tuesday opening keynote by Jackie Huba, co-author of “Church of the Customer” Keynote
As she talked about the “1%ers,” the rapid fans/customers who create content about brands, it became clear that some of these fans can come to the rescue of companies that make horrible (or at least unfortunate) decisions. She used the example of Discovery’s “DENBlog,” which had it’s plug pulled, but lived on in the content created by fans at other sites. That’s a great example of the power of social media, but it is not good strategy to rely on your best customers to take over when you screw up (is it?).
I have heard Francois talk about “tribes” before based on his previous research for SNCR, so it was no surprise to hear him talk about how people organize into such tribes and exhibit herd mentalities, wanting to be like others and collect status; they also use symbols and signs to express their tribal affiliations. Think about the mayorships and badges of FourSquare, and you may come to the conclusion that building game mechanics into social media is a shortcut to mass adoption. That may be true, but another thing Francois and Edward mentioned was that people also want to create their own expressions of brands. I say: go back to the herd mentality and feed that. A company can feed messages that people will repeat—even in the content-creator culture. How? By creating messages worth repeating (oh—and having a product or service worth celebrating). If your message (not to mention your product) is terrible, that’s when you lose control of your message.
Eric Schwartzman’s session on creating social media policies
The most valuable piece of information, of course, is the social media policy template that Eric shared with us. A couple other possibly counter-intuitive points from Eric:
- Don’t approach the company’s “social media experts” on policies, but make sure your primary stakeholders are people who understand the core business—business should affect social media policy, not the other way around
- Probably an often-overlooked point; make sure you policy champions are going to be with the company for a while. That applies to any social media efforts of course (not to mention overall PR), but worth repeating
- “Doublespeak is un-Democratic” is how Eric expressed the need to eschew ambiguous language. All employees affected by social media policy (i.e. everybody) need to have clear boundaries and definitions. Set those from the outset
Voce friend Geno Church of Brains on Fire spoke on brand movements
As he rolled case studies from Fiskars, Best Buy and others, the one thing that stood out for me was “Burn the NDA.” When you are getting people- employees and folk- to spread your brand’s word, they need to speak freely. Sometimes, you never know what you’ll come up with.
Culture of Success
My old colleague (and co-Principal of Fresh Ground Communications) Todd Van Hoosear moderated a panel that successfully integrated thinking from companies both small (Andrew Sinkov from Evernote, a product that I used to keep my notes at NewComm Forum) and big (Manish Mehta of Dell). One of the hardest things to do, it seems, is to let go of your domain. It’s great to have people interacting in your space (like Dell.com), but I got the impression from Manish that companies have a harder time letting go of that than we like to think. Also, Sinkov brought out a great point, that it’s “OK to suck.” I fear that too many folks will interpret that as they should be imperfect as some sort of warped goal to be accepted in social media. Rather, companies simply should not be afraid to make mistakes in public. While Imperfection is ok, it’s NOT a goal- or a tactic
Christian Olsen of the agency APCO Worldwide presented on social media for regulated industries
This topic particularly interested me as The Community Roundtable’s Jim Storer and I deliberately sought out community managers from regulated industries (finance, pharma, education) for our “Conversations with Community Managers” podcast series. For the Q&A, in fact, I got one of our interview guests, Shwen Gwee, to submit a question via Twitter. He wanted to know if the various regulated industries shared ideas for social media with each other. The answer, at least from the government side, was no—even within the FDA, for example, the various groups don’t talk to each other much, according to Chirstian. That’s discouraging, but as we shall see below, the Department of Defense seems to have gotten around that- somewhat. Another question I did not have the chance to ask; do industry group guidelines (such as WOMMA and IAB) have any teeth at all without government agency backup? Should there be cooperation here if people really want to enforce ethics in social media, or do we have to rely on laws governing only regulated industries as they come?
Jack Holt, Department of Defense: Thursday Keynote
I will boil down my takeaway to this: if the Department of Defense can embrace social media and use it effectively, then anyone can. Right? On the other side, rather than playing on the stereotype of inefficient government (see regulated industries, above), look instead of the stereotype of the tactically-ready armed forces. The hardest part of social media adoption was acceptance. The military is built to execute, and once the top says it’s ok, the rest will follow. If it were only that simple at most corporations. Side note: somehow it came up in my later conversation with Jack that he is the son of Tim holt, actor who appeared in, among many other films, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and “The Magnificent Ambersons.” There’s a line about “comeuppance” (link?) somewhere in here.
Manish Mehta of Dell.com filled in quite ably in the Friday morning keynote
A one-time employee of the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant, he compared the progression of social media (particularly Dell’s efforts of course) to that of the nuclear power industry. In short, he followed the nuclear reactor (and Dell.com) from product to application (nuclear subs!) to placement (power plants). From there, the proven product scaled (to 100+ power plants).
The open question, which Manish expressed as a time of greater responsibility that comes with the great “power,” is what is the danger? In the case of nuclear power, it was lingering concerns over safety, which led to a an outsize PR reaction to the Three Mile island meltdown, that resulted in no further nuclear plants being commissioned in the 30 years since the incident. “Safety” translates to “privacy” as the major concern of social commerce, says Manish. So, if privacy is the concern, what could be social media’s “Three Mile Island?” Is it Facebook, with it’s “ask forgiveness rather than permission” approach to privacy and permission? Is it FourSquare, combined with Generation Y’s devolved lack of concerns about personal privacy? We may see soon, we may not.
Finally, on Friday, I caught some of Susan Getgood’s session on FTC guidelines for blogger endorsements
Susan has been following this issue closely, and is one of the founders of Blog with Integrity. I got the feeling that even after several months since the guidelines were released, there remains confusion over what enforcement there is, and what bloggers and companies should do to meet them. Common sense came up quite a bit, as did the steps toward investigation– when, if at all, is there punishment?