As a PR professional who provides media relations and spokesperson training to clients, I often get asked if the rules of spokesperson engagement change when you address an audience via a social media channel. My answer is a solid—well, yes but no, not really.
In the literal sense, a spokesperson is defined as any person who is authorized to speak on behalf of another person, group of people or organization. Training provides the tools that help the spokesperson know what to say and how to say it. However, when engaging in social media channels, the spokesperson is not just addressing the media. He or she also is communicating with consumers, relevant audiences, bloggers and analysts—basically anyone who is tuned in to that particular social media station. The beauty of social media is that it gives everyone a voice—and these social media outlets can spread good news as well as bad news in a matter of seconds. In some cases, this can work against us. But it can also work for us. These public forums allow the communications pro an opportunity to steer perception, conversation and action. However, without training, preparation and guidelines, even the most polished professional can stumble. And yet, a study published in 2010, Employer Perspectives on Social Networking, found that “75 percent of employers say their business has no formal policy instructing employees on the appropriate use of social networking sites on the job.”
So why do companies invest in media and spokesperson training, but not in training those same individuals (and frankly, the company as a whole) on social media best practices? Not only can social media allow the spokesperson to reach a company’s core audience by providing the conduit to influencers such as media, analysts and bloggers, it also can serve as a critical component in virtually all crisis management strategies.
So back to my answer of, “Well yes...but no, not really.” Yes, the way you handle your responses should include the same principles as Spokesperson Training 101, including those outlined below:
But no, not really. Engaging an audience through social media channels requires additional corporate policy and training initiatives for employees. It also demands that you do not engage in a social conversation blindly. You must make sure you have a plan of action and a sense of what the audience is looking for. Then, evaluate the best method to communicate your message(s).
Remember, social media is a great forum to listen to complaints, share good and interesting news, apologize for mistakes, set the record straight or build goodwill with your audience. But, it is always good to get the proper training, because the internet is unforgiving and the information you provide will live on for a very, very long time.