Blogging was where we began, and how we built our company so we have preserved this archive to show how our thinking developed over a decade of developing the use of social technology inside organisations

Enabling the social shift from the centre of the flow

by Robin Hamman

Over the past couple of months, I’ve spent a lot of time speaking with, and running training courses for, people in the PR and marketing industries. Their roles are changing because customer expectations are shifting – consumers, constituents, audiences and stakeholders who are used to having two way conversations online increasingly want and expect to be listened to and engaged with, as individuals, both before and after they purchase a product or service.

I see this shift as an exciting opportunity for PR and marketing people, as well as those in customer service, to not only increase the value and impact of what they do already but also to put themselves at the centre of a two way flow that can drive corporate change; as enablers of the shift to social business.

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I recently put together a presentation, initially delivered as a keynote at the Unicom Social Tools conference and later re-mixed for the Northeast (England) Chartered Institute of PR social media conference and Civil Service Live, which suggests a four step approach for having difficult conversations about brands, products and service delivery:

1. Listen: People are already talking about you or your brand. You can start finding those conversations quickly and easy using tools such as twitter search, technorati, google alerts, RSS and netvibes. Once you’ve found the conversation, listen and learn.

2. Acknowledge: One quick and easy to show people that you value them as individuals is to simply acknowledge that you’ve heard what they’ve had to say and, even better, care enough to say thanks or to take ownership of the problem, if there is one.

3. Engage: Once you’ve acknowledged that you value what people are saying about your and your brand, it’s time to put across your side of the story. It’s important, however, that you do this in a way that respects the social norms of the space where you are engaging.

4. Involve: This is the most often forgotten step, yet is also potentially the most beneficial – getting the people who care enough to talk online about your products or services to get involved in the co-creation of new, better offerings. Tap them for ideas, get them to test initial offerings, make refinements based on their feedback, enlist them in marketing the idea they helped bring to fruition.

You’ll find examples of each of these four steps in the presentation – view it over on slideshare if you want to see the notes:

People working in PR and marketing aren’t alone – social media has, for some time now, been changing the way that many people think about about their roles. Some journalists, for example, are getting out of their silos and exploring the social net, finding and gathering content as they go, and adding value by scrutinising, fact checking and editorialising the information, news and viewpoints they discover – acting more like editors or curators rather than the originators of content.

Some people working in PR and marketing, as well as some journalists, worry that social media will ruin the affectiveness of their old, one way model and, in the process, will destroy their business model. In many instances, it already is.

However, change often brings good, not only for society as a whole but also to the individuals who help bring about that change.  And this, I think, is a moment of such opportunity for Public Relations professionals and Marketeers to help their organisations better understand and navigate the, potentially dangerous, waters of social media.

My colleague Lee Bryant, who tends to discuss Enterprise Social Media,which is the implementation of social tools within the organisation, recently wrote “I think we must also maintain a razor sharp focus on individualbehaviour, incentives and task relevance if we are to bring people withus on this fascinating journey to improve the world of work.”

Like journalists who have already made the shift, PR and Marketing people can become the enablers who help others within their organisation – people hired for their specific knowledge, experience and expertise – to step outside the firewall and begin listening to and participating in meaningful conversations. The incentive? This is far more than an opportunity to do PR and marketing better -  it’s a chance to put yourself at the centre of corporate change; of helping your organisation make the social shift.

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