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Gains and Pitfalls – Social Media and Brand Communications

A number of recent news stories have featured the pitfalls of social media – enraging some people and enthralling others. Sally Bercow got sued and PR executive Justine Sacco generated a storm on Twitter, losing her job. The Kevin Bacon advertising campaign highlighted that virtually everyone is connected.

Some companies have expressed concern that the risks of using social media outweigh the benefits. To investigate, Broadgate Mainland invited Dr. Paul Dwyer (a senior lecturer from the University of Westminster), Suzanne Tyrrell (a senior associate from international law firm Taylor Wessing) and Jo Faith (editor, yourmoney.com), to talk about the challenges and pitfalls.

The collective view was that social media continues gaining importance in company PR campaigns. Jo Faith monitors social media to look for story leads. “It’s not only a great way for PR … to get their message across but also for establishing company executives as informed spokespeople”, she said – mentioning also that companies cannot merely dip in and out occasionally if they expect a real return.

Paul Dwyer supported this, adding that social media can be a powerful tool when used properly. A recent Christmas video went viral with over 35 million views, for example. He spoke about return on investment, and emphasised the importance of message tone, imagination and creativity. “It’s a bit like a party. People don’t want to be sold to. You have to engage in a friendly and entertaining way if you expect people to respond positively.”

Suzanne Tyrrell mentioned possible risk without effective controls. “Only 40 percent of companies have a corporate social media policy,” she said. “Social media policies should not stifle creativity … they should set clear parameters on what is acceptable behaviour and what is not.” Policies should include the risks of retweeting and libel. Tyrell also warned that the commonly used tagline “These views are my own” is not a robust legal defence.

The panel debated whether companies needed to monitor social media to stay informed of possible mentions, and concluded that it allowed timely reaction, if necessary. Supervision of brand reputation should include digital notice boards and reader comment sections, with replies posted if topics do not offer a full perspective. Such replies need to be in a pleasant tone – not too corporate or overbearing.

Social media looks set to continue to surprise and entertain its audience, while companies develop and embrace the new skills required.

Author Bio

Mark Knight is a Director at Broadgate Mainland the London PR firm.


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