The growth of social media across the world, a phenomenon that is now becoming prevalent in Kenya, means that companies and their public relations advisors must form coherent strategies, remain constantly on message and be ready to react instantly to negative online publicity in order to protect their brand from damage.

Whereas in the past bad news would have taken hours or even days to spread, use of the likes of Twitter and Facebook means that negative publicity can now “go viral” in a matter of minutes, building the pressure on companies and their PR arms to synchronise their operations and respond to issues in real time. According to experts, companies need to listen to their customers and be seen to be proactive in dealing with them.

“Companies need to be out there and know what is being said about them. If you don’t know you have already lost,” says Marvin Tumbo, CEO of Socialight Media Limited. “They need to engage in general conversation. These social networks are about conversation. People need to know you are trying to help. Don’t just use it as a marketing gimmick.”

“The companies that help are the ones that have done best. They are searching for problems and trying to help. They create an ecosystem where help is easily found.”

After a 2010 Burson-Marsteller study found that 79 percent of the largest 100 companies in the Fortune Global 500 index were using at least one popular social media platform, the 2011 study showed that this usage has both increased and changed. Whereas in 2010 the companies were using social media for one-way communication to broadcast corporate messages, they are now more likely to directly engage with social media users, mentioning and re-tweeting on Twitter on responding to posts on Facebook pages, suggesting an increase in resources for social media engagement.

Between 2010 and 2011, there was a six per cent increase in companies using at least one platform, and a 25 percent increase in companies using all of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and a corporate blog. “Companies are starting to get the sense of how to leverage social media to manage their brands and engage with stakeholders,” the report stated. “Organisations are dedicating resources to better monitor and manage social media, and they’re learning from other companies’ successful strategies.”

“The interaction between companies and their stakeholders on social media is driven as much by consumers as it is by the companies. Not only has corporate activity increased on social media, but the number of followers and “likes” increased substantially on corporate social media accounts,” the report went on to say.

“With the growth of social media and the barrier to entry for points of expression getting lower every day, anyone can start a movement or write about their concerns, and if it captures the attention of enough people, it can quickly spread,” writes Lucy Marcus, founder and CEO of Marcus Venture Consulting. “It doesn’t require a mainstream newspaper taking up the cause either, so it changes the public relations dynamic as well.”

“Social media is a frontline service. It is not a place where you can funnel people into siloed areas via “choose option 1, 2, or 3” telephone lines. It encounters a multiplicity of queries be it marketing, customer service, legal issues, and more. It therefore should be managed by someone who is empowered in the organisation, with the authority, or access to someone with authority, to make things happen in a decisive manner.”


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