Companies and organizations cannot ignore how social media is changing the ways customers interact with them. In this month’s eTip, we interviewed communication and public relations expert Pam McConathy, president of Foresight Communications Group about where communication is heading and how social media is impacting the way we communicate.
BMC: How long has Foresight Communications Group been in business and how did you get started in the business?
McConathy: I have been employed in public relations and corporate communications for more than 20 years. I started as a newspaper reporter and then worked for small, medium and large companies, as well as more than 10 years of management and consulting for large PR agencies. Some of the clients have included Sprint PCS, Reliant Energy, the Houston Technology Center, Verizon Wireless, Emirates Airline, Aramco Services, Shell Chemical, Halliburton, Accenture, PricewaterhouseCoopers, and Grant Thornton. My undergraduate degree is in Journalism, and I am a graduate candidate in Futures Studies from the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Foresight Communications Group was formed in March, 2008.
BMC: What are some communication trends you are seeing?
McConathy: We are in the midst of a fundamental and revolutionary shift in communications, marketing and business as millions of us around the world continue to use the Internet in new and exciting ways. Specifically, the areas of social networking and social media are exploding, causing significant shifts in the way humans interact with each other and their “environments.” Increasingly, we are socializing with each other online via a variety of social networks, and we are also interacting more individually and directly with companies and organizations with which we do business. We are finding the Internet to be our preferred pathway to people and things that matter most to us, offering us infinite choices and opportunities to explore, learn, express ourselves and participate in ways we never could before.
BMC: What are the 3 most common mistakes you've seen companies make when it comes to incorporating social media into their communication strategies?
McConathy: First: Businesses who ignore this shift, think it’s just a fad, or don’t fully grasp its magnitude and opportunities, will pay a high toll when reality comes to call. A common myth is that social networking and social media tools are primarily being used by younger audiences for play time. They are wrong. The line between work and play is blurring and social networking is a contributing factor. Success comes to those who pay attention to important signals in the marketplace and effectively prepare for what’s ahead.
Second: Organizations that continue to conduct marketing and communications campaigns targeted toward mass markets will eventually fail. Increasingly, we are living in an era of micro-markets, where groups of stakeholders and customers form around distinct and unique wants and needs. One size no longer fits all. Businesses need to pay much closer attention to audience voices. If companies listen to stakeholders and learn and then act with commitment and transparency, they will gain trust and loyalty among their audiences.
Third: Engaging stakeholder audiences “where they are” is key. Delivering or pushing messages to the marketplace is no longer enough. Communicating effectively with our stakeholders requires that we engage with them where they are, honestly and transparently. That often means tapping new social media tools and channels to reach customers and employees, and others. In addition, translating that engagement into sales for customers or recruiting and retaining employees requires anticipating wants and needs, and being in front of trends.
BMC: How can companies stay on top of communication trends?
McConathy: In a recent issue of Business Week, Jack Welch noted, “In business, you can never stop planning for the future, even when it feels like the present requires all your attention.” I believe that organizations must invest in thinking about the future or risk ultimate demise, no matter how successful they are today. I would recommend they create a group within their organization or appoint someone to focus on tracking and evaluating marketplace trends that have the potential to impact their business or industry. Then, explore ways to act on that information.
In the area of communications, I recommend finding an experienced and informed communications/public relations professional to help explore new challenges and opportunities in this area. Social media and social networking tools are often effective along side traditional methods of communications. It’s all about finding the right marketing/communications mix for each organization. I hope companies would be bold enough to try some new things if it makes sense, and smart enough to do their homework so they make decisions today in preparation for what’s next.
BMC: Last words of wisdom in regard to communication trends?
McConathy: Social media and social networking are exploding because these tools are enabling our voices to be heard in new ways. For the first time in history, we can connect directly with the world in meaningful ways. Communication is the life blood of every business or organization. If we do it right, we stand to gain deeper insights into the needs, wants and behaviors of stakeholder audiences. This is a golden opportunity for organizations that are paying attention and are willing to act on what they see.
Foresight Communications Group (www.thinkforesight.com) focuses on providing clients with innovative public relations programs designed to achieve business objectives. For more information, call Pam McConathy at 713.416.4410 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.