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Why digital media can help companies stay small when they grow big!

I can recall looking at a presentation a few years ago, on social media, titled “Taming the Beast”!! The title describes the attitude of many communications professionals and also top leaders towards the so called ‘onslaught’ of social media.

This was especially true up until a few years ago. Not that most communications professionals are comfortable with the new reality but the majority of them have accepted it as the new norm and are learning to live with it. However, aside from marketing and brand teams, it’s a different story for the other departments in most businesses.

True to their instinct of milking every possible channel of communication, many marketing teams have been leading the charge of using social media to strengthen their respective brands.

However, that’s looking at digital with blinkers on and many articles that I have read describe ways to ‘deal’ with it. If we remove the blinkers and are able to see beyond the beast’s dreadful face, we will see a huge opportunity, not only for marketers and communications professionals, but also for the large organisations to become closer to their stakeholders – consumers, customers, employees, partners, etc.

My grandmother used to narrate the story of a great king who, every few months, would disguise himself as a beggar and roam around the streets of his kingdom to find out what was going on in his nation. He felt the need to do so as his ministers would feed him lies and always paint a rosy picture. The same situation can be extrapolated to large companies.

When companies are small it’s easy for the top management to find out what’s going on and there are more intimate interactions with the employees, consumers, etc. The decision making is quick, there is more collaboration between different departments and the companies are able to be more consumer centric.

However, as the companies grow big, it becomes increasingly difficult to do so and more importantly it is impossible to ensure that the people are living the culture and values of the organisation. There is more siloed behaviour and decision making gets slowed down. One of the big challenges that large companies face is how to behave like a small company despite their size….how can they be nimble footed, be more consumer centric and make decisions  and changes faster?

So how can social media help companies achieve that? Traditional logic would suggest that social media is adding to the complexity and with one more beast to deal with large companies have more than their plate full.

But social media can replace the need for the king to put up a disguise to find out the truth! Among many other benefits, social media offers four things! Firstly it provides real time and unadulterated feedback from the consumers on product quality, service, packaging and corporate reputation, and all practically free of cost. Companies that are putting in effort and money in harnessing this feedback for product improvement and betterment of service delivery will benefit immensely.

Secondly, it forces companies to be nimble footed and revert quickly. Consumers today interact with and expect brands and corporations to talk with them as they do among friends on their social networks. More often than not, their choice of a mobile phone/ watch/holiday reservations are made basis reviews from friends. If you do not respond to a consumer within hours and in some cases minutes, you have lost that opportunity forever and in all probability the consumer. Most organisations have a very complex and time consuming approval process hence they are not geared to respond quickly. Social media is making them rethink the response mechanism.

Thirdly, companies don’t have to rely only upon structured org-health surveys where employees do not necessarily provide candid feedback because of the fear of the feedback being tracked down to them. On social media, organisations can get spot-on employee reviews such as on glass door. They just have to know where to look and for what information. It also provides organisations another platform to engage with employees, on which they are already present and spend a significant amount of time.

Fourthly, social media provides an extremely efficient and measurable platform to engage directly with millions of consumers. Until recently, marketing teams had to buy advertising spots on media channels such as TV, print (newspapers, magazines, journals) and websites. These are extremely expensive and cluttered.

Similarly, corporate communication professionals would try and sell their organisation’s positive stories to journalists and through them get it into newspapers, TV or magazines. Now they have an option of going directly to the consumers! They just have to figure out how?

Basically, social/digital media provides an option for companies to do what they were doing when they were smaller hence helping companies stay small while being big! What companies need to do is to look hard as to how to reorganise themselves (physically and though a mind-set change) in the digital world as opposed to looking at digital as a medium of marketing and communications.

Pradeep Wadhwa, Director Corporate Communications, PepsiCo India, is a seasoned communications and reputation management leader and the views expressed above are purely personal

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