Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Smart Business of Message Control

It is ironic that a profession perceived to be about message control really has little, if any at all.

Yes…I am referring to the craft of public relations. Prior to a press interview, we load up our executive with speaking points and background information, and then cross our fingers that he or she will be on message.

Yet, we are ultimately at the whim of the journalist and how that message is translated and edited into an article or broadcast that is then offered up as finished content. Consider how often you hear that a spokesperson has been misquoted or their comments taken out of context.

To splash fuel on this fire of PR frustration, we are also completely at the mercy of how consumers digest media content. Accurate messaging that plays well in an internal planning session, can easily be misinterpreted by external audiences. And these misunderstandings can have a meaningful (and negative) impact on the business.

There is simply too much hope in public relations.

Enter social media. While I have heard clients and prospects cite the lack of brand image and message control for failing to engage in social networks, I contend that there’s actually a much greater opportunity to effectively manage communications.

That’s because unlike traditional PR channels a corporate social media program typically involves a fair amount of content creation – blogs, Twitter, Web-based video, discussion creation in online communities, etc. This is a more direct channel as there’s no dependency on a journalist ability to translate a message.

Of course, the foundation of any social media initiative is content that engages, educates and entertains. You simply can’t publish fluff or marketing hype and expect to garner much in the way of readership.

And yes…it is not appropriate (or possible) to control how an audience perceives and reacts to your corporate view delivered via social media channels. Unlike traditional PR, there is a mechanism for response though.

At Strategic Communications Group (Strategic), we counsel our clients that the most effective course is to assess reaction, correct inaccuracies, and engage only with those who are open to a fair and cordial dialogue.

There are some who argue that any attempt to shape messaging in social media is fool hardy and simply about a perverse desire for power. Not so. When managed professionally, a well articulated message delivered via social networks is smart business.


Joe Ferry said...

Agreed. If you can' t exert a modicum of control over your message, engaging in any marketing endeavor is a dangerous proposition. Social media is no different.

Dan Connolly said...

Your message is right on. In the social networking world, we find that larger clients are "monitoring" twitter accounts and other social networks too review what people are saying about their brand and working to enhance and fix messaging. There are controls in place (at least with our software) that allows folks to review and then post upon approval. It is a control mechanism that can be utilized or not. Skepticism is tolerated as long as its not deemed too negative!

Anonymous said...

Marc, I would agree with you ... as a PR professional, it's always been frustrating when no matter how beautifully your message is relayed, the media has the power to misinterpret and completely change its meaning. As you said, I do think social media gives us an opportunity to correct those misinterpretations, but at the same time, I also believe social media is a lot like the children's game of "telephone" ... when a comment is "re-tweeted" or a Facebook post is commented on by someone who perceived it differently than the poster intended, all of these interpretations can muddy the waters of that original message.

Does that mean we still shouldn't try to control the message? Absolutely not!

laurent said...

Interesting angle and I see your point. The interactive nature of social media enables brands to establish an ongoing dialog with relevant industry influencers. I think 2 criteria at least needs to be met for that to be successful: 1) allocate time to identify/understand industries influencers through active listening 2) have knowledgeable people do the communication (thats not always the case in PR, I've often see individuals that didn't know the products well enough)
By knowing each influencer individually and putting expert on the front line, a brand can create a one on one dialog with its community and be rewarded overtime with a greater image.