A few months ago, my organisation joined forces with our public sector partners for an emergency exercise. It was my first experience of this kind of thing and I was there with a colleague to inject a little social media into the mix. Yesterday, as part of the debrief, we were regaled by the excellent Mark Scoggins from Fisher Scoggins Waters on the dangers of not recording the process of decision making in an emergency. In essence, it will come back to bite you later if anything goes wrong (do you want to take the risk?). During the talk, the subject of the window of opportunity came up in the context of “How long do you have before you make a public statement in relation to an incident?”. It’s a reputation management issue as much as a public information service. Well, Mark concluded, in the old days it may have been 24 hours at best but the world has changed and it’s a whole lot shorter now. A recent fire in Selly Oak was visible for some distance and images and footage began to appear within minutes on Twitter and YouTube. By contrast, it took 5 hours to appear in the local paper’s Twitter feed as graphically displayed in a great slideshare by Dan Slee. The Hudson River plane crash is another example of a citizen reporter beating the big boys to the punch via Twitter . As public sector organisations we have a responsibility to manage emergencies of all shapes and sizes. As such, we have authority which can only be maintained by trust. So if we don’t want to be playing catch up with the social media melee, we need to be the first with the news or we lose all credibility. And that requires empowering frontline officers who we regularly trust to make decisions. We need to give them the means and the permission to convey those actions through the most direct and immediate channels at our disposal; social media. Because that old window of opportunity just got a whole lot smaller, in fact it’s like the diminishing dot on my childhood valve TV in the moments after you switched it off. Blink, and you’ll miss it.
“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated” Mark Twain
For those who keep a weather eye on all things social media, the latest market share stats for Facebook made interesting reading. A cursory glance may suggest something to worry about if you’ve spent the last twelve months coaxing your organisation onto social media and extolling the virtues of Facebook as a conduit to our customers. But remember that this is based on overall social media market share. It groups Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter in the same pot. All have a niche but comparing Facebook with YouTube is like comparing apples with bicycles. People share content and comments about content on YouTube but it isn’t where you go to wish someone happy birthday. Twitter is clearly in a similar market but unlike Facebook, the former majors on mobile usage. Facebook has a large customer base that likes old skool PC access. So in that sense maybe Google+ is a better comparison to make. But Google+ didn’t make it into the top ten this time and for some, the jury is still out. So what do we read into the recent Facebook blip? I addressed a room full of our middle managers recently and hit them with a pile of compelling arguments about the benefits of a social business model. It seemed to be going well. I explained how Twitter and Facebook were revolutionizing the relationship between us and our customers. But when it came to the Q&A, one colleague made the comment “I was on Facebook for a few days and didn’t rate it much.” And there’s the thing right there; Resistance to social media isn’t necessarily born of ignorance. Some people don’t like social media because their personal experience hasn’t been that good. “Happy Birthday” and “Here’s a cute puppy picture” float the boat of a lot of people but not everyone. Undoubtedly, people will have joined Facebook to see what all the fuss was about and maybe, some of them have voted with their feet when the hype didn’t match the experience. Maybe that accounts for the recent dip, who knows. With all that, it remains clear to many organisations that Facebook or at least the functionality of Facebook has changed the game plan for customer service and there’s no turning back. Even if a rival application looms up on the rails, the principal of the customer/business, social relationship is now established. The challenge for all advocates is to demonstrate to the early leavers that it’s worthwhile coming back and taking a second look. As I said to the assembled managers “Some people use social media to post pictures of cute puppies and drunken revelry..we use it in a whole different way.” For the public and private sectors, social media and for the moment, Facebook are invaluable tools and we should never forget the importance of getting that message across internally.