Thursday, September 18, 2008, 5:05 PM

Social Media: Is it relevant?

We have all heard of Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, and other social networking sites. We can all agree they are innovative and generating significant buzz. What is debatable is whether they are relevant to your business' communications plan. We don't recommend devoting valuable time to web communications without a credible plan, particularly if your target audience doesn't use social media. However, an increasing number of companies have seen their reputations become fair game on social media sites, and are harnessing these sites to avert PR disasters.

Look at Comcast: The cable carrier opened an account on, which allows you to stay in touch with friends through 1-2 sentence online messages called tweets. Comcast saw an opportunity to monitor public sentiment and respond to customers who "tweet" about bad experiences with the company. As one customer put it:

Within 20 minutes of my first Twitter message I got a call from a Comcast executive in Philadelphia who wanted to know how he could help. He said he monitors Twitter and blogs to get an understanding of what people are saying about Comcast, and so he saw the discussion break out around my messages.

What makes a single frustrated customer a PR disaster in waiting? The fact that Twitter has roughly 1 million users, many of whom are Comcast customers. Comcast wisely followed its audience online and spoke directly to it. The same could apply to a wide range of organizations, from brokerage firms and airlines to political campaigns.

Not everyone is smitten with Twitter, and not every organization should re-write its communications plan for social media. One blogger injects a good dose of reality in to the debate. Nonetheless, every organization should at least consider whether their audience is migrating to social media. If your audience is, it may be taking your reputation there too.

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