Auto-Correct

It’s great to be a communications guy in 2011.  It’s complex and (like any profession) has its ups-and-downs, but I’m convinced there has never been a better time to be doing what I do.  One of my favorite parts of the job is watching people “learn” about the social media approach to communications.  Most of the time, they are not really learning anything new at all, since many of the fundamental principles or promise of a social approach are things that lots of PR people are already good at…and have been doing for decades.  Good communicators understand community, the power of an organic dialogue, and finding connections in the way that people connect in the world around them.  But watching that light-bulb go off in PR minds is a fun thing to observe.  And it always leads to something exciting and innovative in what they are doing at work, at home and in their lives.

But there is one particular aspect of our social media world that, for some reason, seems to surprise communications veterans I know: the ability of a social media community to correct information or misleading messages. Here’s how it works:  If you have a group of people who follow a conversation on Facebook or Twitter, are dedicated or interested to that issue, the community becomes the best watchdog and editor of anything that it perceives as incorrect.  Most of the time (if the community is an authentic one, and if the organizer of the conversation is authentic about the issue) people want to educate those around them, will share information, and are ready to come to the defense if needed.  (I have learned a lot about what “Authentic” means in our social media world from CV Harquail…check out her blog here).

I was at a gathering of some very smart PR people a few weeks ago in New York City and took part in a fascinating conversation about this reality.  The VP of Communications for Target, one of the American brands that inspires loyalty in its customers, explained how people will often come to the defense of the company even before the organization at a corporate level knows about it or needs to intervene.  Of course Target moderates its very large social media community, and engages with a careful voice and highly effective tactics.  But the customers themselves talk to each other, will cite information, and will guide each other to information about store locations, products, or even correct myths that circulate about the company.  What Dustee Tucker Jenkins was talking about at Target, is one of the most fascinating aspects of our social media reality.

Some folks were talking about this power to “auto-correct” after her presentation.  They were saying, rightly, that this kind of customer behavior is not only good for the communications department, but is just good for business.  It means the PR shop has to stay on top of its game, has to continue providing information and engaging customers in a compelling and authentic conversation, but often saves them from having to intervene with an overly heavy hand.

When it works well, this kind of “auto-correct” is impressive and shows how much things have changed from the era in which the corporate spokespeople thought they “owned” the conversation.  I love to find ways in which the international policy and development communities can leverage this aspect of social media.  It’s one of the best ways for us to be part of the conversation that is the promise of social media.

Now let’s see how “auto-correct” helps improve this blog post!

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