Social Reputation Management – An acronym waiting to happen

Back in the early summer of 2005 I penned an article entitled “Smart Consumer…  Smarter Employee” which attempted to capture impact of the internet on the ability of customers to share brand experiences and the effect this may have if this emerging (at the time) trend migrated into the employee/potential employee group.  Here is a snippet:

“What has been missed is the emergence of the ‘smart employee’. With Enron, Tyco, Worldcom and now Rover in our back pocket, the attitude of the employee is changing. They no longer believe the bullshit. They are becoming more and more cynical. And most important of all, they are sharing this cynicism online, with millions of other like minded people.

The emergence of the smart employee has taken longer than that of the consumer, and has yet to have any major impact but the signs are all there that it will.Organisations ambitions to be the ‘employer of choice’ and to have that killer ‘employee proposition’ will be tested on a global stage, in a theatre where they have absolutely no control. More worrying perhaps, is that the increasing budgets of £m’s spent on developing the corporate employment image could be rendered worthless over night by the smarter employee.

Today my wife consults a million people she does not know, but trusts implicitly, to determine her next purchase. Tomorrow, she will consult the exact same people about her next job.

Click here to read the original.

When I wrote that piece, Facebook, MySpace and LinkedIn were only just emerging and a whole generation of social media tools were not even a twinkle in their founder’s eyes – Twitter included. Indeed ‘social media’ itself was a term that was generally unknown and the social media revolution had not gained any real momentum.   The ‘Power’ and ‘dialogue’ I was referring to at the time took place mainly in forums, specific sites within specialist interest groups or the message boards on stock pages.

Even without the ability to see the social media stuff coming, I did feel that this kind of dialogue would gain momentum nonetheless.  And of course it did.  Now that the revolution has really kicked in Brands, and increasingly their status as employers, are being assessed real time.  Coupled with the rather poor behaviour of some employers in recent years (layoffs by text, revelations of greed and fraud etc) employees and perhaps more importantly potential employees are becoming way more cynical.  What your peers on Twitter say about that company you are interviewing at is increasingly carrying more weight than the efforts of the employer branding or HR Team.

I was discussing this recently with someone I know at a PR agency.  They had developed a ‘new’ offering based around the threat of social media to your brand – I guess you could call it social reputation management (Or SRM! – you heard it here first folks!)  As nice as it sounded, I couldn’t help feel they had missed the point somewhat.  More often than not you don’t manage your brand through social media; social media manages it for you.  Whether you like it or not.

It doesn’t mean you can’t influence it at all, but the magic word here is authenticity.  Because if you are not authentic you will make thing ten times worse. Facebook, MySpace and other similar places are littered with embarrassing and humiliating examples of brands trying, but failing miserably, to influence and manage their presence in social media channels.  And if you do mess up, no amount of PR investment will right things for you.  In fact, if you have to ‘manage’ your profile in the social media channel then you probably don’t ‘get it’ any way.  You have to be ‘in it’ to do that.

Consumer and increasingly employee ‘connectedness’ is a force to be reckoned with.  As Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics puts it “With social media its best to… listen first and sell second.  It’s the world’s largest focus group out there”

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