3 trends in corporate communications

Although disjointed, the department is more important than ever, according to new research from Altimeter Group.

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The rise of social technologies over the last few years has affected corporate communications severely. From angry bloggers to ratings and reviews, communicators are some of the first to respond and take ownership.

In fact, Altimeter’s research (figure 6.3) indicates that 30 percent of corporate social strategists report to corporate communications, and 41 percent report to marketing, where corporate communications may reside. Despite this, these departments have undergone three major changes.

• Nearly all employees are corporate representatives. Both a blessing and a curse, traditional corporate spokespeople can be any employee who participates in social communications, even if they don’t officially represent the company. We found in a recent survey that the average enterprise corporation has a whopping 178 social media accounts globally. To make matters more complicated, the blur between personal and work social media accounts like Twitter and Facebook confuses both communications staff and employees.

• Companies must respond faster to customer woes in public. Forever gone is the day of sweeping customer complaints under the carpet. In the current Google world, corporations must address customers in public. We see the speed required to respond increase, as minor issues can escalate within hours. Business communications is no longer limited to 9-5, but now a watchful eye has to be put in place. We see an increase of outsourcing to agencies that offer brand monitoring, community management, and real-time response.

• Communication crises on the rise. Our recent research peering into 50 case examples has found that social media crises are on the rise year to year. Ironically, we’ve segmented this by mentions of corporations in mainstream media, as those get the attention of executives. Why the increase? The media loves to stick-it-to-the-man by telling stories of single consumers bucking a nasty corporation. With the pile-on-effect from social media, these stories glean heavy traffic and comments.

Three trends in corporate communications

I’ve peered into many corporate communication departments as I spend time with the world’s largest corporations. I’ve seen three clear trends which we’ve articulated in our latest report on Social Business Readiness (slides too), which you can download and distribute. Among them are:

1. Relinquish control, usher “enablement.” In business school, we were taught to control the message and encourage corporate representatives to stay on message. Yet today, as departments including support, sales, HR and beyond participate in social media, communication is spread to the edges of the company—not just from executive communicators. As a result, communicators have changed their mindset to allow other departments to participate, based on pre-set parameters and guidelines.

2. Educate your workforce. We found that savvy corporations have detailed workflows. One insurance company I’ve worked with has multiple workflows in place, including sample language in which employees should respond. Beyond creating these workflows, they must be distributed throughout the company through education programs, and drilled. Savvy corporations have up to four types of education programs spanning the executive, social media, business stakeholder, and associate teams. Even if the mandate is for rank and file employees to not respond on social media on behalf of the company, reinforcing education is still required.

3. Host mock crises. We found a few corporations that work with agency partners have setup mock fire drills. For instance, within a few short hours, Weber Shandwick simulates accelerated week-long crises with several stakeholders using its software Firebell. Not only does this test the mettle of the organization, it provides useful training so companies can respond faster, in a more coordinated approach. We should expect compliance programs to eventually require corporations be “social-crises-ready.” I know of two brands that have already gone through this.

Jeremiah Owyang an industry analyst for Altimeter Group. A version of this article initially appeared on Web Strategy.


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