People have a compelling need to share our information with each other, and we’re finding it easier than ever with social media. That means huge change for business.

At a session sponsored by IABC/Golden Horseshoe and IABC/Toronto Westend on April 11, a trio of speakers gave their perspectives on social media. Here are just some of the points they made:

Kevin MacKenzie (@mackenstuff) of Marshall Fenn Communications pointed to three key shifts affecting our behaviour:

  1. Information consumption: Digital is where people increasingly spend time for entertainment, information and research, and that’s where we need to go to get our messages out.
  2. Always on, always connected: The old days of a printed Guinness Book of World Records are gone. Now we want the answers right away. That expectation of instant gratification affects customer service in a major way.
  3. Search is social, social is search: The search game has changed. If your information is not “living” in the social world, you won’t land on the first page of search results, and you basically don’t exist.

Key takeaways: These shifts in behaviour mean that business must be prepared to connect on social media. Understand that customers have already done research and formed an opinion, so you need to find out what customers want from you. Learn where they cluster and what they’re saying. Monitor the conversations and connect. Set up a code of conduct that clearly sets out that you don’t monitor social media 24/7. You can use expensive monitoring tools or you can simply track Twitter hashtags and Google search results. (Kevin has posted his presentation on SlideShare.)

Erin Joyce (@TorontoPearson) represented Toronto Pearson International Airport, which employs 40,000 people and welcomes 32 million passengers each year. The Twitter account serves up content such as airport events, retail openings, new airlines, operational updates and YouTube videos, and is a vital part of crisis response. “Social media has audience storytellers, and if we don’t speak, others tell the story,” she said.

Key takeaways:

  • Create allies. Erin described an opinionated Twitter follower who had lots of suggestions. They arranged a half-hour meeting with him, and he went from their biggest critic to a huge fan.
  • React in real time. “Unhandcuff your employees.”
  • Never choose silence over speaking up. “Silence will kill you.”
  • Validate, don’t hide. The only comments the team would delete would be offensive ones.
  • During a crisis, acknowledge the issue and say what you’re doing; don’t pre-script; don’t respond individually.
  • Be human. Not everything needs a response but some non-questions deserve one. As an example, Erin mentioned replying “Welcome home” to a passenger who tweeted about landing at Pearson.

Catherine Martin and Sgt. Jay Turner are part of an action team at Hamilton Police Service (@HPSActionTeam4), who use social media for community engagement, high visibility and public safety. “Traditional media doesn’t give us the help we need when we need it, whereas I can tweet 55 times and tell our story over and over,” Jay said.

Key takeaways:

  • Use social media to build a community of allies. Connect, engage, interact with people.
  • Cash in this “relationship capital” in a crisis. That’s the bad event, that “Oh sh*t” moment where you want to have a following you can reach and where the media will want to reach you.
  • Use social media for reputation management. People will often talk about you, not to you, so you need to monitor the conversation. One of the hashtags Jay follows using Hootsuite is #ACAB, which stands for All Cops Are Bastards.
  • Social media doesn’t change anything, it just amplifies it. All the more reason to be tracking what people are saying.

We had a great turnout of close to 60 people, and people I talked to enjoyed the session. Were you there? What did you think?

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