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Social media link PR and HR

Familiar song, different dialect. The recruiting blogosphere has introduced me to the concept of employer brand, which relates to the perception of the company as a place to work. From blogs and YouTube videos to stock boards and rate-the-employer sites, social media create new challenges to those who would manage perception. It's just another example of how a company's interaction with social media is necessarily multidisciplinary—in this case, blurring the distinction between HR and PR.

Fortune's "100 Best Companies to Work For" opened one floodgate with its invitation to post reactions on their blog, but the continuing action is on purpose-built sites like JobVent (via C.M. Russell):

It's getting to a point where employers are going to have to hire someone just to troll sites like this and tecross to find and fight the digital dirt being spewed on them.
JobVent is an anonymous, community-generated review site for employers. Employees, ex-employees, and fakers rate companies on a variety of metrics (such as pay and respect) and share their opinions of the employer. The site keeps running totals based on the collected ratings, and companies can show up in the "love my job" or "hate my job" leaderboards with their cumulative scores. Well-prepared job candidates will find what your employees have written.

To the list of ways that bloggers and other social media users can relate to a company, add employee—past, present and future.

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Reactions to social media relations

I wanted reactions to the social media relations idea, and I got some:

I would add physical contact to his list of ways to deal with bloggers...
Vinnie Mirchandani, What to do with those pesky bloggers

This will involve a different way of thinking, mostly because blogging to be effective gives up control, which causes fear and uncertainty in the realm of traditional communications. It’s going to be about managing the process of the message coming to and from communities rather than the corporate marketing machine. It’s also going to be about how to communicate and integrate with the various blogging communities.
John Simonds, More on blogger relations

When company leadership eventually picks up on this the likely reaction might be to let the role fall to someone in IT... I agree that social media isn't IT, but I don't think it's marketing either. I am not sure that many marketing departments could handle this role, at least today. It's technology, marketing, customer/public relations, customer services, and even R&D and product management to some degree. The SMR will truly need to be able to bridge across many groups within an organization to be successful.
Kevin Donaldson, Social Media Relations


Not everyone likes the idea. Forrester's Peter Kim prefers to reinvent marketing:
Social media relations means that the public relations function—and other departments—need to get used to a two-way dialogue with consumers. This can only happen through a cultural shift in communication strategy, along with guidelines to help people get started.

Actually, Peter and I agree on that point. Social media relations is the label I'm using for the responsibilities of a company's point person for social media. The label and org chart considerations will vary by company, as shown by the community marketing program at Hitachi Data Systems. Evangelizing the culture shift and promoting engagement guidelines (not just WOMMA's guidelines but the company's social media strategy) should be central to the SMR role.

As I wrote in the original post, this is an idea for discussion. What do you think? How do companies get up to speed on the rapidly changing world of social media as it affects their business? Is SMR a needed specialty?

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"If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail." Only that's not fair to the hammer. A blacksmith can use a hammer to make a nail—or a hinge, or a piece of sculpture. A jeweler can use a hammer to make a gold leaf. A hammer drives the chisel of the stone carver. OK, there are different types of specialized hammers. The point is, some very similar tools can be used for very different purposes by different specialists. Online monitoring tools are like that, too.

Last Thursday, two online monitoring companies held simultaneous webcasts. Makes it tough on the schedule (what was wrong with all the other hours last week?), but it was interesting to see the different topics chosen by companies with similar services.

First up (because I had to pick) was Mining the Blogosphere, with Umbria's Howard Kaushansky and Brains on Fire's Geno Church. They painted a picture of blog monitoring as a near-real-time market research tool for marketers. Two examples stuck with me: a CPG company measuring online buzz to determine that a competitor's product launch was failing, and BoF gauging before-and-after visibility of Fiskars for a word-of-mouth program.

Cymfony's Jim Nail, meanwhile, was hosting The Changing Face of PR, where social media were discussed as one of three big trends affecting PR (the social media section starts at 40:30, if you want to skip ahead). There were some pretty clear expectations that blog monitoring is at least partly a PR function, and some very interesting data points from the 2006 PRWeek/Cymfony Corporate Survey (PDF):

  • Over 40% of respondents listed "developing a media relations program for new technologies (e.g., blogs, podcasts, RSS, etc.)" as a top-of-mind media issue for 2007 (#5 on the list).

  • But 62% don't have a strategy for responding to blogs today, and regular blog monitoring is not a habit for most companies:

    • 25% don't monitor blogs for mentions of their companies at all.

    • 34% monitor blogs less than weekly.

    • Only 16% monitor blogs at least daily.

  • Blog monitoring serves multiple purposes, but the majority cited buzz tracking and reputation management as their goals. Over 40% also cited competitive insight, customer understanding, crisis prevention/detection, and awareness of developing brands as additional goals.

I don't think any one functional group is going to have an exclusive claim to a company's social media activities; it affects too many functional areas for that. The idea of my social media relations suggestion is that someone needs to be the point person for getting the company up to speed in social media and coordinating its responses to the issues that emerge.

It's certainly interesting to see the same topics from the perspectives of different functional groups. I think it's about time to go get the IT perspective.

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Real-world social media relations

I wrote defining social media relations as something of a hypothetical, to test the idea of a new role responsible for coordinating a company's interactions with the market through social media. Today, I read a very similar description from someone who's been doing the job.

Jeremiah Owyang initiated the community marketing program at Hitachi Data Systems. Today, he shared his definition of the community manager role (follow the link for his commentary):

  1. Listen to find out what customers are saying.
  2. Respond quickly when appropriate.
  3. Inform stakeholders in the company what’s happening.
  4. Shut up and sit back.
  5. Listen more.

I wanted to talk with Jeremiah about how the program is working out, but he's kind of busy now—taking great pictures in Asia and handling the transition to his new job at Podtech. When he announced the move on his blog, he wrapped up his experience in a way that really captures the attitude companies need toward social media:
We’ve launched thought leader blogs, user forums, and other tools that reach to customers for an open dialogue that will help us to listen to customers and build better products and services.

If you want to have a happy experience in social media, emulating Jeremiah's attitudes toward online communities will serve you well.

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About Nathan Gilliatt

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  • Voracious learner and explorer. Analyst tracking technologies and markets in intelligence, analytics and social media. Studying complexity and futures.
  • Principal, Social Target

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