- Player: Vincent Magwenya
- Company: Magna Carta
- Position: CEO
- Established: 1994
- Contact: www.magna-carta.co.za
The press release is no longer the automatic go-to tool in the PR arsenal. Digital mediums have fundamentally shifted the public relations landscape, and, thanks to platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, companies can engage with large audiences relatively easily.
The social media battleground
This new digital landscape brings with it great opportunity, but also great risk. With so many communication channels available to absolutely anyone, it can be all but impossible to position enough guards along the PR watchtower.
Recently, for example, an employee of online rating site Yelp posted an open letter to the company CEO. In the letter, she complained about the minimum wage she was receiving as an employee at the company’s customer service centre, and lamented the fact that she was finding it impossible to make ends meet.
In a rather dubious move, Yelp summarily fired the employee, and, to make matters even worse, the company tried to claim that her dismissal had had nothing to do with the open letter she had posted. It was yet another example of how easy the Internet has made it for companies to become embroiled in brutal and unanticipated PR disasters.
“There is a famous quote, often attributed to Mark Twain, which states: Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Nowadays, however, it’s more appropriate to say: Don’t pick a fight with someone who has a Twitter account,” says Magna Carta CEO Vincent Magwenya. Magna Carta is a consultancy that aims to deliver full reputation management solutions.
According to Magwenya, it is important to be proactive in one’s approach to risk management as it relates to social media and the online environment.
“Scenario planning and risk management is incredibly important,” says Magwenya. “You need to have some sort of strategy in place for the day when you find yourself at the centre of a social media debacle. An online catastrophe arrives quickly and unexpectedly, and managing it effectively can be tough. The last thing you want to do is to lash out like a snake trapped in a corner, behaving counter-productively and fanning the flames, so you want a strategy in place that will take emotional responses out of the equation.”
Magwenya also emphasises the importance of having a social media policy in place that prohibits employees from behaving irresponsibly in the digital sphere.
“Employees are representatives of your organisation, so their online behaviour will cast a reflection on your business — there is no way around it,” says Magwenya. “Because of this, you need some sort of policy in place that stipulates exactly what is expected of employees with regards to social media. You don’t want to restrict behaviour too much — people should be allowed to be themselves online — but they should be made aware of the effect their behaviour can have on the business.”
Know your audience
All of the above being said, there is no doubt that the online environment provides great opportunities for companies looking to engage directly with customers. Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter remove many of the traditional media gatekeepers, allowing companies to engage with individuals easily and cheaply.
However, Magwenya warns against becoming infatuated with metrics such as number of Twitter followers or Facebook likes, which might stroke the ego, but are ultimately quite meaningless. You can share some silly bit of content that goes viral (sneezing animals are always a good bet), but if you aren’t communicating with your audience in an authentic and meaningful way, ‘going viral’ won’t have a lasting impact on your business.
“When it comes to metrics, you need to pay close attention to what you’re measuring and why you’re measuring it. You want engagement that has real impact,” says Magwenya.
He also warns against joining a social media platform without a clear customer-centric strategy. “You need to understand your customers, and when it comes to social media, you need to know where your customers reside. There is no point in speaking to an audience that has no interest in what you’re offering.”
Content is (still) king
Whether you’re talking about new media or the trusty old press release, however, content remains king. Regardless of the medium you use, the focus always needs to be on telling your story in an authentic way.
“We always look for authenticity when crafting a client’s narrative,” says Magwenya. “You can’t be boring. You need to tell your story in an interesting way. The business needs a credible face, so your personal journey as an entrepreneur needs to be intimately tied to the story of your business. You need to tell your story — don’t be afraid to recount the mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learnt. The people behind an enterprise — the courage and commitment that exists — needs to be shown.”
According to Magwenya, South Africa’s socio-economic environment also means that there is great value in emphasising the social relevance of your operation. Are you employing the previously unemployed, empowering artisans or up-skilling your employees? This is news always worth sharing.
Innovation is yet another ‘hot topic’. “Innovation sells,” says Magwenya. “Something fresh and new provides an angle of interest. The companies that achieve the most traction are the ones that are continually innovating.”
One need only look at all the ink that’s been spilt over companies such as Tesla and SpaceX to realise the value of innovation. If you’re genuinely trying to change the world, it’s very hard for the world not to notice.
Customers respond to authenticity. You need to find a way of telling your story in an interesting yet honest way. Have the courage to admit the mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you’ve learnt.