Business use of social media: Zuckerberg meets Grunig

Who doesn’t know the name Mark Zuckerberg? He’s the young techie genius who created Facebook, the social media site that enables 24/7 connections.  Facebook may be the best known example of social media today. It and other social sites let me connect with friends old and new, and initiate and maintain conversations about anything that interests me at a given moment in time. We can use social media to share as much information about ourselves as we’re willing to release, which means that opportunity and danger are sides of the social media coin. Caveat emptor, in the sense that once released in cyberspace, always there.

Every day more companies are jumping on the social media bandwagon to connect with and learn from their customers. They want to be “liked.” They will seek out, hear and respond to my complaints, questions, and comments. They solicit my views and ask for my feedback. In short, they want to engage me.

The ‘new’ social media is helping companies more easily practice the normative or ideal model of public relations that was defined years before Zuckerberg went to Harvard and became one of its most famous dropouts. That model is discussed in a 1992 report on the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) Excellence Study, Excellence in Public Relations and Communication Management, edited by James E. Grunig.  A central finding of the Excellence Study is that virtually all companies with reputations for excellent communication practices use a two-way symmetrical approach to communicating with their key stakeholder publics.  (Note the “with”, not “to”.)

Two-way symmetrical communication is the essence of social media. It may have been created as a personal communications tool, but social media now provides a way for companies to interact with customers and other stakeholders on a real-time basis. Such initiatives are all about starting and sustaining communications with customers in ways that can increase their loyalty, satisfaction, and commitment to your product or brand.

The two-way symmetrical communications model for public relations relies on honest and open two-way communication and mutual give-and-take. It requires organizations be willing to make adjustments in how they operate, to accommodate their publics.

Bottom line, as the IABC study found, when it comes to effective communication, dialogue trumps persuasion. This suggests that responsive caring may be the most persuasive marketing message that a company can send.

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