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Caroll Capital Hed
Carrol Capital
Information Systems professors

Social media redefines community relations


ScienceDaily reported on a paper by Assistant Professor of Information Systems Gerald C. Kane (center) and associate professors of information systems Robert G. Fichman (left) and John Gallaugher published in the November 2009 Harvard Business Review that describes how community outreach rules have changed with the rise of social media. "Community Relations 2.0” details the “brave new world” created by social media platforms, and offers solutions for how companies may survive and flourish.

Kane, Fichman, and Gallaugher, along with coauthor John Glaser, chief information officer of Partners HealthCare, examined social media engagement at more than two dozen firms. They found that, with the exception of the health care industry where participation was robust and influential, most were “in dire need of fresh skills, adaptive tactics, and a coherent strategy” to interact with both customers and the virtual communities that arise from social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, as well as blogs and wikis.

"These new social media tools let people organize extremely quickly around any issue or event that inspires them,” said Kane. “Within hours, these virtual communities can grow to hundreds of thousands, potentially reaching millions more in short order. Companies and organizations caught unprepared can find themselves in a media firestorm.” Recall the infamous YouTube video of a Comcast repairman napping on the couch of a frustrated, Internet-savvy cable subscriber.

The authors argue that companies need to understand these new social media and create dedicated social media teams to not only defend against threats, but also to find constructive ways to engage. Earlier this year, for example, stories surfaced that Starbucks was protesting the Iraq war by refusing to send coffee to troops. The company tweeted to dispel the rumors. And after having a multibillion-dollar IT rollout disrupted by a low-level employee’s blog rant, Kaiser Permanente now reaches out to customers via social media as an important resource for customer service, marketing, and new product development.

“Whether or not managers, leaders, or politicians even know the difference between Wikipedia, Facebook, or Twitter, they need to begin learning how to monitor and respond quickly to trends in these social media communities,” Kane said. “Doing so, they may not only prevent the spread of damaging information, but they may also find valuable partners in their organization's mission."

Read "Community Relations 2.0" »