Ignore Facebook at Your Peril

Robert Mullins is a freelance technology writer in Silicon Valley. His writing can be found at his Robert Mullins blog.

I’d thought of Facebook as a fun, entertaining time-waster, which would distract me from work I should be doing to take quizzes on what’s my favorite breakfast cereal or what kind of “Mad Men” character I would be. But I became impressed by the power of social media on June 25, the day Michael Jackson died.

On my Facebook News Feed popped up one post from a friend with a link to a report on the gossip site TMZ.com that Jackson was dead. Soon I was clicking my mouse with one hand and the TV remote with the other looking for confirmation. Mainstream media like CNN and MSNBC weren’t reporting he was dead; the only other Web sites reporting his death only cited the TMZ.com report. My News Feed soon filled with messages from others trading information on Jackson. It was like people gathering around radio sets when Pearl Harbor was bombed or around TVs when President Kennedy was assassinated. Only it was interactive.

I’d also heard that the initial reports of that airliner that splashed down in the Hudson River Jan. 15 came from Twitter.

So, the value of Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms is clear; they can be a powerful way of disseminating information and, where a business is concerned, managing it.

My e-mail inbox is regularly filled with invitations to online webinars or real world seminars on marketing and PR via social networking. For instance, the Web site Mediabistro.com, which follows media news and offers professional training, invites people to view a panel discussion, “Social Media Essentials for PR.”

There is also evidence that embracing social media can help head off PR crises. The Wall Street Journal, in an Aug. 3 article titled “For Companies, a Tweet in Time Can Avert PR Mess,” recounts how three major companies – Ford Motor, PepsiCo and Southwest Airlines, averted PR problems by responding quickly on Twitter.

In the Ford case, the auto maker was being criticized online for forcing a fan Web site – TheRangerStation.com, dedicated to its compact Ranger pickup – to close. Ford’s director of social media, Scott Monty, immediately posted a Twitter message that he was looking into the matter, the Journal reported. He learned that Ford lawyers believed the site was selling counterfeit Ford parts bearing the company’s famous blue oval logo. Monty got the lawyers to back off forcing the site down if the site agreed to stop selling the fake parts. Problem solved.

And you don’t have to be a giant public company to use social media strategically. The New York Times reported July 29 on “Managing an Online Reputation” about how small businesses can set up Google Alerts to send them a message each time their company is mentioned in blogs or other Web sites.

To track Twitter mentions of the business, the Times story mentions TweetDeck, Twendz or Twitter’s own search function as resources.

While social media are still growing and evolving, their value is becoming clear, so scouring Facebook and Twitter may not be a time waster after all, but time well spent.

1 reply
  1. Annonymous
    Annonymous says:

    While I agree that social media is a valuable resource, I believe the networks were exercising responsible reporting by not announcing Michael Jackson’s death until they had confirmation. Bloggers, tweeters, etc. don’t face repercussions if they announce something that later turns out to be false. Patrick Swayze certainly didn’t appreciate erroneous reports of his death.

    Reply

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