"Corporate communications have radically changed" says Andy Sernovitz, chief executive of the Blog Council, an organisation for heads of social media at big companies. "It's no longer just companies talking to the press, and customer service talking to customers. All these other people showed up in the -middle. They may not be press and they may not be customers, but suddenly their collective voice is bigger than the traditional channels."
The essence of social media is conversation. Rather than a one-way stream of information, where companies make announcements to the press and customers, social media enables a great deal of interaction, where companies are in constant dialogue with the public. "We've seen a shift from doing things the old way to now having conversations with our customers," says Jeanette Gibson, director of new media for Cisco Systems.
The above comes from an article in today’s FT, about as mainstream a business publication as you can get, a sign that perhaps Europe is beginning to hear the siren call of the changes that social media is bringing to business. Again, Twitter is on the agenda:
Companies are using Twitter to douse public relations fires before they erupt. Scott Monty, head of social media for Ford Motors, used Twitter to appease users who were angry after the carmaker sued an enthusiast website that was selling unauthorised Ford merchandise. When fans of the enthusiast site posted angry messages, Mr Monty "tweeted back" to explain the company's position.
Bonin Bough, who was appointed director of social media for PepsiCo last year, also used Twitter to defuse a brewing crisis after the company released a series of advertisements depicting a cartoon calorie character committing suicide.
We’d not disagree with this – in fact we've been pioneering this approach on behalf of Skype since last year (and Scott Monty is a friend of the family, so to speak), but the focus should be on the overall conversation, of which Twitter is yet just a small part – forums and blogs are likely to remain the most significant venues for some appreciable time (this will vary, of course, depending on the sector you’re in - for example, if you’re Sony BMG, MySpace won’t have lost its significance just yet).
However, Melissa Bounoua’s article in Forbes earlier in the week makes a valid point:
Most European companies haven't even heard of Twitter, and some might think it's a time waster. A spokeswoman for energy firm Total says that Chief Executive Christophe de Margerie has no idea what Twitter is. British Telecom says it doesn't have a Twitter account and doesn't plan to open one. Nestle's communications manager says using Twitter "just never came up within the group strategy." In general, experts say Europeans don't latch on to new social networking technologies as quickly as Americans.
I’d swap ‘Europeans’ with ‘European companies’ - as far as the general population is concerned, Europe is ahead of the US – with a higher proportion of the UK population using social networking and Twitter than the US (and the rest of Europe broadly comparable) and all of Europe but Germany and Austria way ahead in terms of blog readership.
However, despite the FT's urging, her analysis is sadly correct when it comes to European companies. We are here to help...