When Social Networking Becomes Viral (a play on words)

Social networking sounds so pleasant and civilized. It’s cocktails and canapés. Folks of like interests coming together to discuss the latest events. And, then, you hear the loud, obnoxious voice. Apparently, nothing is right and the host doesn’t know, want to know or care that this guest is ‘unhappy’.  Suddenly, everyone is talking not about the wonderful party, but about the disgruntled guest. Conversations have gone from social to viral.

While in the business world of buzz word bingo, ‘viral marketing’ is to be desired – positive messages being spread exponentially through Yammer, Twitter and the plethora of social networking sites. There is the obvious flip side to ‘viral’. Viral doesn’t sound pleasant; it sounds toxic.  And, this is the challenge of the evolving social media craze for companies – the allure of free advertising versus the fear of being pilloried on a global scale. Remember when conventional wisdom stated that for every bad experience an individual would tell 10-20 people. Those days are long gone. Think thousands and even millions.

And, it’s not as if you can choose not to participate in order to control the conversations. Imagine one irate customer ranting to the world. You have to take control of the online conversation or you will no longer own your brand image. As we have seen with political campaigns, once something is put out there it acquires the presumption of truth. And, to dispute the claim doesn’t dispel it, but ironically gives is credence. One is challenged as to how to respond to the negative or blatantly inaccurate.

So, given it’s out there and you cannot ignore it:  How are you using social media? What are you doing to tie it into the overall communication fabric (application management, analysis, marketing, etc.)? Have you considered whether you participate as “Company” or create a persona for the company to establish the impression of a human relationship? Will monitoring be automated or manual? Have you established a formal group to manage and respond or is it still ad hoc? Or, are your employees speaking on your behalf with no guidelines or oversight?

Remember, no one has all the answers yet as to how to best use social media. The space is evolving too rapidly. The only wrong answer is to do nothing.


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