Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Social Media changes control over your brand!

How is your association's governance structure adapting?

Social media offers important opportunities to connect with your supporters. However, you must be willing to let conversations about your organization occur - even if you are not driving the message! Time and time again, I hear the continuing comment from association execs to the effect of: "I like the idea of social media or a blog but what if someone says something negative about us?"

What are the risks vs. opportunities to an association's brand when your audiences control the message?

Many organizations think the biggest risk of social media is that people will use it to say negative things about them. That's certainly worth addressing, but the biggest risk is actually the opposite: that your organization will create a social media presence, and nobody will participate. There's no shortage of deserted online communities out there, some of them beautifully designed and clearly very expensive. Others garner participation... but the conversations quickly veer off-topic or into belligerent shouting matches. And still others start off well, but can't sustain their momentum; some aren't ready to scale up, some encounter embarrassing technical failures, and some just peter out and fade away.

So how do you avoid their fate? A compelling reason to participate... thinking about your audience before you think about anything else... staffing up to encourage participation and put out fires... and both knowing and pushing the limits of your organizational... these can all help. But nothing works quite as well as knowing social media in your bones, and that means diving in yourself and understanding exactly where your supporters can be found with the topics that will motivate them to participate.

Web 2.0 makes it easy to reach a worldwide audience, but the heady possibilities come with potential liabilities. Any errors in communication will be amplified. This is why many organizations find the concept of social media pretty scary. Allowing employees to blog, tweet or post Facebook updates is obviously more risky than not permitting anything outside the standard channels. Especially if those employees are executives or at the board level where devolving information or opinions could impact on the whole of a cause or industry.

As a communications guy that believes in associations being willing to expose even the ugly side of things from time to time (provided there are communications plans in place to respond and counter), social media really is going to change some aspects of how associations even govern themselves. For example, who will speak for the organization? Who owns the association's brand? In essence, social media will need to reposition may of the protocols in place in the strategic business plans of associations.

While all of these issues may seem scary, properly prepared communications protocols, social media policy, and a communications plan tied to solid governance principles in a non-profit's by-laws can effectively mitigate the risks. What concerns do you have about social media?

Mark Buzan is principal and chief magnifier in Action Strategies, a full service strategic communications, public relations and public affairs consultancy for nonprofits and associations. Contact him for advice on reaching audiences you may or may not have yet considered in your marketing communications and PR campaigns. You can view his website at www.actionstrategies.ca.


Rob H. said...

Good article! I think that negative comments are great indicators of what some of your members or stakeholders think of your organization. While these comments need to be addressed, I'd rather hear them than pretend they're nor there.

Mark Buzan said...

Thanks for commenting Rob! I agree. Generally speaking, the organizations that are open and transparent are the ones that are fairing the best. The truth still is though that non-profits are going to need to consider the required protocols to ensure their brand remains protected while also demonstrating openness.

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