The #Social Survival Manifesto: A Roadmap for Avoiding Online Reputation Crisis

7 years, 11 months ago


gnoring the differences in attitudes, behaviour and tone that distinguish social media from traditional media is a sure-fire way to put reputation at risk. But steps can be taken that will reduce the chances of triggering a crisis. By Tom Liacas.

Is there a need, in 2013, to reaffirm the rules of the road for businesses and institutions communicating through social media? More than ever, judging by the almost weekly accounts of consumer flare-ups and awkward ´fails´ that put some well-known brands and governments uncomfortably in the limelight. And yes, according to recent research, which reveals that while an overwhelming number of businesses have now established social media presence, few are making the cultural adaptations required of this new medium, and indeed, of networked society at large. 
This disconnect between traditional conventions and new online cultural expectations opens up countless occasions during which a company or institution can be shamed for its insensitivity and faux pas. This potential has created whole new areas of reputation concern and, as a result, increased business opportunities for Public Relations professionals. 
Decision makers are now actively seeking counsel on the navigation of these tricky waters while protecting brand image. The PR industry, however, seems to have missed the boat. Whereas its experts have guided so many clients on the intricacies of dealing with journalists, they now have little to say on the built-in etiquette of the powerful set of new media platforms that are fast becoming as important, if not more important, than the traditional press.
Allow me to step into the fray here and try to be of service. I am neither a veteran PR practitioner nor a geeky technophile. However, my younger years as a digital activist and more recent years as an advisor to the Fortune 500 have led me to understand the DNA of social media culture and also why businesses find it so difficult to adapt. From this vantage point, I have set out to map the most important areas of risk for my clients and what cultural changes are essential for gaining influence and generating goodwill online. 
My #Social Survival Manifesto is a distillation of all the important and hard-to-accept pivots in tone, behaviour and attitude that distinguish social media from traditional media and corporate communications. It can be read as a guidebook for succeeding in these new environments and as a reminder to clients of the risks that come from not avoiding the changes required. 
The Manifesto begins with 5 Principles of Survival. These are non-negotiable. Failure to adopt these attitudes and behaviours is the most common cause of all the social media ´fails´ and crises we keep hearing about. On the surface, they all make good sense to decision makers. To apply them, however, requires a willingness to turn many well established corporate communications practices upside down. I present them here in summary form, each is fleshed out more fully in the full Manifesto text. 
Principle 1:  Hiding is not an option!
Though ´low profile´ may have been a strategic choice for corporate affairs strategies in the past, this approach carries great risks in an age where critics and adversaries control multiple micromedia and engage in thousands of reputation-damaging conversations daily.
Principle 2: Face it, you are outnumbered
However many employees and billions of revenue a corporation may have, it must be humble online, where a level playing field is part of the culture and arrogance is derided. There are, in fact, countless Davids out there waiting for a clumsy Goliath to step into the fray.
Principle 3: You no longer control the message
To deliver effective messages through social media, the corporate communications process needs to be turned on its head. Instead of cooking something up at the head office and then disseminating, it is wiser to listen to existing online conversations and allow these to shape the message. 
Principle 4: Try acting like... a human being
Social media is a person to person environment, where audiences expect every account they cross to display human qualities. When companies transpose their traditional corporate voices onto social networks, they come across as eminently repulsive personalities.
Principle 5: Learn to listen, or else
On social media, really listening to others is a must. Activating this reflex builds better rapport with audiences and also unlocks the potential of using collective intelligence for competitive advantage. 
The next set of five Principles of Success are intended to help clients who want to do more than survive, those who want to gain competitive advantage in this new world and thrive in it. The behavior presented here, if executed, will win clients great amounts of appreciation and goodwill online.
Principle 6: Admit that you don’t have all the answers
On a medium where authenticity carries great power, letting down one´s guard and asking for help can be of great tactical benefit. Those that have taken the leap are already reaping competitive advantages.
Principle 7: Speak plainly and seek to inform
Online stakeholders, clients and consumers like to do extensive self-guided research and draw their own conclusions. Your information will be considered if it is presented simply, without spin. If you embellish and try to sell too hard, your audience will look for the truth elsewhere.
Principle 8: Quit being a monolith
Your employees and staff, speaking online as individuals, are a crucial resource when it comes to building influence and protecting reputation. This can be managed through frameworks that encourage and activate their participation as social media spokespeople for your company.
Principle 9: Try being less evil
No matter how well you manage your social media communications, the skeletons in your closet may surface and come to erode any trust that has been built up online. It would be best to face these issues upfront as nothing steals the show as much as a scandal exposed and shared by peers.
Principle 10: Pay it forward, now
Internet culture was largely built on the principle of the Gift Economy. If you can figure out how to create value and give it away to your online communities, then you have what it takes to be a powerful attractor and influencer. This, by the way, is the secret of Google’s success.
The #Social Survival Manifesto Principles cited above are endorsed by recognized leaders in Corporate Communications and Crisis Communications as well as by Mr. Christophe Ginisty, current President of the International Public Relations Association. The Manifesto has sparked an ongoing discussion and all IPRA members are invited to join in. 
You may begin by downloading the Manifesto here:
Thought Leader Profile
An M.A. graduate in Media Studies, Tom Liacas is a senior Online Reputation Strategist who cut his teeth creating and managing networked campaigns well before the term ´social media´ existed. Innovating in the trenches of digital activist groups such as Indymedia and Adbusters in the 90s, Tom gained a deep understanding of what makes corporations and governments vulnerable to social media crisis and, conversely, how to adapt their communications to create productive exchanges with their stakeholders. In his career so far, Tom has personally overseen the sale, design and management of several million dollars’ worth of social media projects for clients in the Fortune 500, the resource and energy sectors and the public sector. Tom was a keynote speaker at the ReputationWar conference that was co-organized by IPRA last January in Paris. 

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The Author

Tom Liacas

An M.A. graduate in Media Studies, Tom Liacas is a senior Online Reputation Strategist who cut his teeth creating and managing networked campaigns well before the term ´social media´ existed.

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