Ross Monaghan is a business communication and issues management specialist with more than 17 years’ communications experience in public relations, general management and journalism. He now lectures in public relations at Deakin University. Here, he talks about changes in the social media landscape and how corporates should be aware, engaging and responding to challenges in the communications sphere.
How has the world of social media changed over the last five years?
It has changed rapidly and I think one thing that people are concerned about is that it’s only for younger people, and I can tell you that’s absolutely not correct. There are a whole range of people out there, there are consumers; other stakeholders are talking about organisations, governments, individually on social media, and I think that’s a huge change now that organisations can’t control their messages and they need to understand how they can be a leader in the social media space.
So, Facebook, should corporates love it or loathe it?
Well, I am not sure if it’s a matter of loving it or loathing it. I think it’s just a matter of accepting it that sites like Facebook and Twitter are out there and that consumers can actually have a say. If you don’t like an organisation, if you don’t like a product or service, you don’t like the government you can say it and we’ve seen instances of that … people talking about organisations, talking about poor service. People are using social media as a way to change, and organisations need to be aware of this and start monitoring and responding appropriately.
Should all organisations be involved in social media?
Any organisation that cares about its reputation should care about social media because if people are concerned about any issues associated with an organisation they will say it online and they say it to their friends, and their friends will pass it on. The viral aspect of social media is something that organisations should be concerned about and aware of—that one person can quickly spread a message to literally millions of people throughout the world. If organisations are not there monitoring and responding appropriately they can be in severe difficulties.
Is it possible to predict which forms of social media are going to be successful and which aren’t? I guess I’m thinking of MySpace and Twitter for example.
I think the only thing you can be certain of in the social media space is that things are going to change. There are some obviously, some sites which are popular at the moment. Facebook, Twitter—are they going to have a long-term future? I’m not sure, and at the end of the day I’m not sure that it really matters for organisations and individuals thinking about their online reputation anyway. They are popular now, lots of people are using them, so I think you need to get on, monitor, respond and use these sorts of tools in a two-way interactive way so that you can actually engage your stakeholders and make real changes within your organisation and the way you do business.
Is the world now all about currency of information rather than depth of information?
I think it is a little bit of both. Certainly, organisations and governments need to be aware that through social media information can change or be spread rapidly, and if you think of government organisations who are dealing with issues on a road, like VicRoads here in Victoria, those sorts of organisations are finding out what is happening on the roads through the informal, back channels on social media quicker than they are finding out through their formal channels. Now, if you take that into your emergency service areas, organisations need to be able to respond quickly.
On the other end of the scale, people like the Department of Primary Industries here in Victoria are developing their horticultural industry network and they have a range of in-depth scientific information for primary producers who can access that online from their paddocks through their iPads and iPhones as well. Social media allows quick information and it allows you to layer information so that you can have a quick overview, whether it is in a few words or in a video or audio information, but it can also link to in-depth information as well.
What are you researching now at Deakin University?
There are a range of areas. I am working with the Cancer Council at the moment, looking at how we can send information out and get the cancer message out to younger people, and there are a range of other health-related services, hospitals. The College of General Practitioners is another group we are talking about social media with, so that we can actually use social media, and looking at internal stakeholders as well as external stakeholders. There is a whole range of organisations that really need to understand social media, both for the importance of external communication and internal communication.