Right about now, your digital team is feeling pretty darn good about itself. It’s amassed a strong social media following for your organization. Enter your company’s name on Google, and your website is the top result. You’ve got a blog, and people are actually reading it. Your monitoring capabilities ensure that you’re alerted the moment anyone mentions your company or its leadership in the digital space.
Benchmarks are met. Milestones are reached. Pats on the back abound. But now what? Smart executives know that contentment can devolve into complacency in a flash—and that it’s up to managers to ensure that their people are continually motivated to meet new challenges. To that end, here are five questions to ask the next time you are presented with even the most glowing digital engagement report. Not only will they keep your digital team on its toes, they will take your engagement strategies to new heights.
When your digital team says: "We own top placement on Google for searches on our organization…"
Ask them: "Who owns top placement for negative terms we may be associated with?"
Search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing (SEM) are about more than advertising—they are risk functions that can help your organization control its narrative when it matters most. In the digital age, you don’t have to wait to defend specific positions when business crises materialize. Rather, you can proactively identify risks and dominate the web with branding messages in a positive, non-defensive way. For a pipeline operator, it’s about safety and reducing environmental impacts. For a consumer-products company, it’s about supply-chain diligence and consumer well-being. For a bank, it’s about being an economic engine and a driver of economic recovery. The most important point is that search engine campaigns that move these messages to the top of the rankings include risk terms such as "explosion," "mortgage abuse," "recall," or "litigation"—as these are the terms consumers, investors, regulators, and potential plaintiffs will be using to gain a better understanding of your next big problem.
When your digital team says: "We are actively monitoring for any mentions of our company in the digital space…"
Ask them: "Are we monitoring for intelligence about tomorrow’s issues, as well as today’s?"
By entering the terms associated with your top-line risks into search engines, companies can glean a great deal of intelligence about the source of their next reputational, legal, or regulatory problem. In other words, they can see around corners. Do regulators, NGOs, or plaintiffs’ firms own the marquee results? If so, what are they saying about the risks and your industry’s relationship to them? Knowing what’s coming next enables companies to address potential problems before they evolve into recalls, litigation, shareholder revolts, or something worse. As such, this needs to be a daily exercise—and a report on the results should be submitted to communications and risk managers each week.
When your digital team says: "Our blog doubled its readership over the last year…"
Ask them: "What are we doing to build relationships with other influential bloggers in our industry?"
Bloggers have evolved into the traditional media’s assignment editors. They serve as pollsters for legislators, regulators, and other governmental bodies. Industry analysts monitor their reports like hawks. That’s why it is absolutely essential that every company identify the "high authority" bloggers in their industry and build positive working relationships with them. That means reaching out directly—with offers for exclusive interviews, invitations to conference and earnings calls, and even allowing them to craft guest posts for your own blog. It also means that blogger queries should be treated with all the reverence normally reserved for 60 Minutes or The Wall Street Journal. The key here is to personally know the bloggers who influence your audience before you need them, so that they can be enlisted to understand company messages when it matters most.
When your digital team says: "We just reached our goals for Facebook fans and Twitter followers…"
Ask them: "What are we doing to transform those connections into lasting brand loyalty?"
Amassing hundreds of thousands of social media fans and followers is about more than erecting a symbol of brand strength; it’s about strengthening consumer and stakeholder relationships. In this context, social media strategy is far more than a numbers game. Rather, it is the most effective way to forge lasting connections based on the ways that your products and services enrich and empower people’s lives. Look at the way American Express is rewarding cardholders who tweet company hashtags with special discounts and savings; or the way Huggies, with its "High Chair Critics" blog, is speaking directly to mothers via babies’ voices; or the way Target is simplifying gift-giving with a mobile app that sorts and highlights certain products based on the recipient’s demographic information. These strategies (and myriad others like them) leverage social media connections to not just create awareness, but engagement opportunities that strengthen the audience’s ties to the brand. At the end of the day, that’s what social media is really all about.
When your digital team says: "We are attracting more unique visitors to our website than ever before…"
Ask them: "What are we doing to keep them engaged once they arrive?"
There was a time when the Internet was dominated by the written word. Those days are over. Today, powerful images, engaging videos, and informative podcasts are what keep web users’ eyes from glazing over when they reach your primary web presence. Why tell stakeholders about new product features, your commitment to safety, or a new Corporate Social Responsibility initiative when you can show them? The average visitor to your homepage likely spends about 30 seconds there before clicking elsewhere. That means you have about half that time to grab visitors’ attention and ensure that click steers them further into your own website.
Your digital team knows Information Age tactics backwards and forwards—but they are looking to you to provide the strategic vision that their tactics ultimately support. By pushing your digital team to take on new challenges each time benchmarks are reached, you will not only keep them motivated, you will keep them keenly aware of the overall mission their work supports.
Follow Richard Levick on Twitter @RichardLevick, where he comments daily on the ways that social and digital media are impacting the marketplace.
Richard Levick, Esq., President and CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, represents countries and companies in the highest-stakes global communications matters—from the Wall Street crisis and the Gulf oil spill to Guantanamo Bay and the Catholic Church. He is the co-author of three books, including The Communicators: Leadership in the Age of Crisis.
[Image: Flickr user Pison Jaujip]