Casual Evangelist

A mission to learn a little about a lot…

Corporate Social Media Rep = Ombudsman

Posted by Andrew on January 11, 2008

Last night, I was chatting with Shashi Bellamkonda, a genuinely great guy who also happens to be the new (first?) blogger-in-residence at Network Solutions. His stint as Network Solution’s social media guy has gotten off to an interesting start, and there’s some important take-aways regarding the important role people like Shashi play in an organization.

Public relations is always easier when your client (or employer) is doing the right things, whether it’s proactive in nature or in response to a crisis. The same holds true for corporate bloggers and social media managers, but there’s a key difference. PR can be somewhat “faceless” and engage in spin more easily. Corporate bloggers can’t hide behind a brand or a press release. It is their human face, and reputation, that is out engaging with customers and the community. It is their face that serves as the human face of the organization they represent. In the case of Network Solutions, Shashi is the only human face that most people see and interact with.

The result is that the corporate blogger/social media representatives are in an interesting position – one that involves both a duty to their employer and to the community. In a perfect world, these are not in conflict and both are perfectly aligned. But it also means that this person may face situations where they are expected to spin and flack for their organization when the organization is making bad decisions. What to do?

How can the representative maintain their reputation for openness and transparency when they face the unenviable task of defending the indefensible?

I don’t think that Shashi’s situation rises to that level, but he’s demonstrating what such a roadmap looks like. Many of those that have commented on his post are downright rude with personal attacks (what else is new online?). Shashi’s handled it very well, stayed calm, and provided a critical line of communication with the community. SmallBizTechnology , Alice Marshall, and Connie Benson agree.

What this incident does show is that a corporate social media representative must be more than a mouth piece for the organization – this is not simply another broadcasting channel for the organization. While not comprehensive, here are my thoughts on the ideal role this person plays:

  1. They must have direct lines of communication with decision-makers at the executive level. And executives must listen. There’s no one that has their ear to the rail like the social media rep. They can smell trouble in the blogosphere and on services like Twitter well before trouble surfaces through traditional channels.
  2. Similarly, the role is like an ombudsman. This person acts as a representative on behalf of the community. The organization must both recognize this and respect it and all that comes with it.
  3. The role is not pure PR. The blogger can’t spin things they don’t believe. This isn’t a “brand” we’re talking about, but a real person with valuable relationships. If trust is broken, credibility is gone and is difficult to recover. A blogger with a damaged reputation is not worth much to the organization going forward. Again, organizations must respect this as well – consider it an acid test for decisions being made.
  4. Organizations must take the leap of faith and keep the lawyers at bay. You can’t run this stuff through legal approval processes.

After talking to Shashi, it appears he’s got these bases covered. Good for him…and good for Network Solutions. The company is much better off with him on board, doing what he’s doing. Others, take note.

[Note: I’m sure a lot of this has been said one way or another in the blogosphere or in the printed word. As I continue to discover and read, I’ll update here with links/thoughts. -AW]

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7 Responses to “Corporate Social Media Rep = Ombudsman”

  1. Thanks for posting your summary of tips. I hope transparent conversation permeates corporate culture at greater speeds (and ease) in 2008. I wasn’t aware of Shashi’s entry into social media at Network Solutions. -Looking forward to that story per above link. …great meeting you at Thursday’s Twitter gig.

  2. Andrew said

    Jill, great meeting you as well. We should chat soon. To your statement about transparency permeating corporate culture, I couldn’t agree more. In many respects, adopting a social media strategy requires much more than using new mediums or channels to broadcast. I requires the whole organization to position itself differently in how they see themselves and interact with customers and stakeholders. Without this rethinking and shifting of cultures, these new tactics will not be as effective as the competition that dives in and believes.

  3. Daz Cox said

    interesting post. this one I did follow your link to see what it was about, and there were indeed a lot of immature comments. I wonder how long corporate blogging will last when the rabble is allowed to vent their concerns, it sure made me happy to be a GoDaddy customer (perhaps I’m just too small time to understand how NetSol is a better investment)? I’m still a little skeptical on corporate blogging as a tool that provides a service to the customer, but it does show that the company understands social media and can communicate a point in real time. Sometimes the human element is the best tool.

  4. Thanks for doing this overview & pointing out how well Shashi handled it. He’s going to be an asset because he believes in the role.

  5. […] of Community Manager can play. Andrew Wright does a great job of highlighting this in his post, Corporate Social Media Rep = Ombudsman What this incident does show is that a corporate social media representative must be more than a […]

  6. Andrew said

    Daz: I think that a level of skepticism is good when these activities. As noted by many, Apple does just fine with their anti-social media strategy.

    However, social media tools exist, and customers use them. As a company, you can choose to let things fester on the web and not respond, or you can take steps to bring the discussion to you and engage with the community. Again, this is much easier if the company is taking the right corrective action. I remember when Monsanto was dealing with all sorts of stuff on the web about genetically modified organisms…some warranted, some baseless. Rather than hide under the covers, they creaded (I think) biotechknowledge.org and let their employees engage in conversations with the community, where they could post information and links to scientific papers and studies. It wasn’t long after that a lot of GMO controversy went to the back burner and people focused on other issues. They succeeded by engaging and putting their positions and facts out there (for good or bad…I’m not going to take a position there).

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