In the first half of this two-part blog, I discussed the outwardly directed reasons for using social media. Those are the reasons that relate to communicating a message from your organization to a specific audience. Just like older media forms, social media provides a mechanism for telling your own story but without external filters and can fully leverage an intimacy with willing followers that is not practical in typical corporate messaging designed to “interrupt” an audience activity (think commercials during a favorite show or advertisements within an interesting article.) Now we will focus on what this media can do internally to improve your business processes.
Listening can be just as important and valuable in certain situations as speaking can be in others. If some important event is happening, you must be receptive for information being shared by witnesses or participants to that event. This can be especially important for public safety entities. Of course, filtering facts from fiction can sometimes be a daunting task, but actually it is really nothing new and erring on the side of caution by taking extra precautions can be more prudent than missing true statements by choosing to be ignorant. Credibility of purported “eye witness” reports can always be called into question. And healthy skepticism should always be used when reviewing social media posts just as you would with many traditional media accounts.
I often suggest that posts, particularly “tweets”, are like speaking in a dark room. You cannot be sure who is really hearing your statements. But similarly I equate listening to attending a conference or trade show. There are many conversations happening, but at a physical event, I can usually only participate in one at a time and I miss all the others as a consequence. In the virtual world, however, I have the ability to be “present” at many more conversations and to review them at my convenience. Filters and queries allow me to be even more selective in this type of “authorized eavesdropping.” As a result, I can learn even more in less time and with far fewer expenses provided that others are willing to share their thoughts and observations.
Fortunately social media has become an important outlet for many people and is not as limited by socio-economic differences as much as it is segregated by age. For my generation, email has become a primary communication technology. While it has only been mainstream for about 15 years now, email is already being shunned by younger generations who simply no longer use email in favor of communication through social networks instead. For additional proof of the recognition of the effectiveness of social networks, the US federal government is beginning to use social networks to announce terrorist threat alerts. Even as far back as the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, Facebook was already being employed by students to connect and share timely information. More recently, events such as the protests in Egypt or the devistation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan can be rediscovered by searching Twitter on hashtag terms such as #jan25 or #tsunami, respectively.
There are useful examples of how social media is being used to connect community in order to supplement situational awareness at the Red Cross and the Los Angeles Fire Department. Even at the Charlotte Fire Department in NC, their situational viewer can link directly to geo-tagged tweets around an incident to deepen awareness on the fireground by querying for social media posts in the area or using particular hashtags.
Another significant example of strategic listening is made possible by the innovative smartphone application that connects heart attack victims with CPR responders and identifies AED locations which is only made possible through social networks.
So whether you are systematically building an audience for communicating a message or strategically listening to develop situational knowledge, social media can facilitate your goals. But be aware that poor or improper execution in the social media domain can be fatal to your initiatives. It is imparitive that proper guidelines are put in place and followed to ensure success. There is a good article on the policies that local governments should put in place regarding the official use of social media. And while there are many details to work out on how your initiative will function, it is important that the ‘why’ we become involved in social media comes first.
Why are you involved?