A colleague on LinkedIn asked "how social media sites could benefit a B2B corporation, and could putting your B2B organization out there also open up potential for damaging info?"
One commenter asked that the poster "describe what you mean by 'potential for damaging info.'" In addition, I would ask: What are your business goals? Without the answer to these questions, social media becomes a tactic in search of a strategy. Practitioners will have no way to determine whether the social media program is doing what they want it to do, because they have not articulated what they want it to do. Social media programs should be designed with an end in sight and knowledge of the stakeholder group's social media habits to determine which techniques, if any, are likely to succeed.
As Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff note in their book "Groundswell," social media can enhance engagement and magnify the influence of advocates in a company's customer base.
Many companies created product or service user groups long before social media was available. I worked with a company that sponsored annual user-group meetings as a service to customers and to learn how they could improve the company's product. What would happen naturally in those face-to-face meetings now happens virtually via social media. Users can share applications and solutions to challenges, and those who are extremely positive (and prone to blogging and commenting) can become very real assets to the company. Moreover, it gives the company the opportunity to enlist its users in the design process, which can lead to better products and higher user engagement and advocacy. However, this only works if your company listens and responds.
Is there a potential for damaging info? Probably. Social media is not a controlled medium.
Then the question becomes: Do you have something to hide? If your organization is authentic and transparent, then chances are good you will be okay. If not, you should encourage management to guide your organization to authenticity and transparency, because with the world as it is today, the transparency likely will come, whether you like it or not, especially if you are publicly held. When the opaque wall turns transparent, you want your house to be in order.
Thanks very much for reading. If you have questions you'd like me to address, or other topics you'd like me to write about, please let me know.
I work with organizations going through a change in strategic direction (merger, acquisition, building program, new product launch, change program, etc.) and that are concerned about what will happen with their relationships with key stakeholders (customers, employees, investors) if they send out the wrong, or confusing, messages. After working with me, my clients have a clear understanding of what their messages should be. I also provide them recommendations on other actions they can take to enhance their relationships with stakeholders.
I also work as a PR and communications research director for hire for agencies and other organizations.
The Institute for Public Relations, (IPR) is dedicated to the "science beneath the art" of PR. It focuses on PR research and education. If you are interested in the topics I write about, you will almost certainly be interested in IPR. You can find it at http://www.instituteforpr.org/. While you're there, check out the Essential Knowledge Project at http://www.instituteforpr.org/essential_knowledge/.
Forrest W. Anderson
Institute for Public Relations
Commission on PR Measurement and Evaluation