Social media bring organizations out of the shadows



May 2012, Trends & Topics

It’s common to use Facebook or Twitter to spread your organization’s marketing campaigns and slogans  — but that doesn’t mean anyone is listening.

Social networking sites can be great way for organizations to connect with stakeholders, but only if the organization understands how stakeholders use the platforms. Think about how you (or your kids) use social media in your personal life — to stay in touch, ask for advice, and share photos or moments from your life.

Relationships with an audience are the foundation for social networking, and transparency is what makes it all possible.

Transparency engages and involves stakeholders on a more personal level. By pulling back the curtain and washing off the layers of marketing makeup, you can reveal a product or cause that people care about.

By “getting real” and using social media like your stakeholders, your mysterious company or organization transforms into an approachable, smiling person. Sometimes the most effective communication is the simplest.

Social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter are inherently more transparent because the platforms are both public and searchable, Pennsylvania State University researchers found in a 2011 study:

“Social media let organizations bring the conversation out of the shadows. It’s also, by its very nature, less formal in tone which enables companies to speak with authority as human beings, not just as faceless institutions.”

But simply having a Facebook or Twitter profile will not increase awareness or suddenly trigger sales or audience participation. Creating a profile and then abandoning it will create minimal transparency or exposure for the organization and could turn off potential supporters who notice the inactivity.

Instead, communicators must utilize careful planning and research to develop a welcoming and transparent environment for stakeholders.

Transparency is the degree to which an organization shares information its stakeholders need to make informed decisions. It comprises three important elements:

  • Being truthful, substantial or useful.
  • Having participation of stakeholders.
  • Being objective, balanced and accountable.

Openness and honesty can go a long way in social media. Your stakeholders will feel involved in your company and appreciate the trust you put in them. Consumers trust and believe (and buy from) companies they like.

For full transparency, organizations must make sure to provide a detailed description of the organization and its history, plus links back to the organization’s website. You can do this by editing the ‘About’ section of your organization’s Facebook page. The section also provides an area to list location, when the organization was founded, as well as contact information.

Researchers at North Carolina State University analyzed 275 nonprofit organizations’ Facebook profiles. Nonprofits operate similarly to for-profit companies but have an added interest in inspiring stakeholders to volunteer or donate.

While most of the organizations sought transparency by disclosing who maintained the site or what they sought to accomplish, they failed to take advantage of the interactive nature of social networking.

The nonprofits rarely posted multimedia files, press releases, or summaries of their campaigns, which are helpful in showcasing the organizations’ successes to those highly involved in social networking. More experienced and frequent social media users expect advanced organizational profiles.

As social media become more ingrained in daily life and expand to a more diverse group of people, organizations will have to adapt to include those audiences.

Like websites, social media should be useful and interesting for those who visit. This means posting information such as news, photos and videos, but also questions to let customers know the organization values feedback.

For example, the PIE Center posts about research and meetings, but includes photos of prom decorations that served as a backdrop for our Healthy Gulf, Healthy Communities regional forum in Apalachicola. Similarly, the PIE Center live-tweeted its electronic social media presentation at the All Florida Ag Show and sought to interact with listeners as the presentation showed users how to tweet.

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