By Stan Steinreich
Major corporations in American today are stunned by our Twitter-tweetin President-elect Donald Trump, who takes on the likes of Boeing and Carrier because he disagrees with their policies and plans.
Let me say at the outset this has nothing to do with political affiliation or affinity, but rather, that as communicators we’re entering a new world with our President-elect taking directly to social media to rattle the cage of corporate America. Now that the gloves are off, how will corporations respond and react to this new dynamic in public diplomacy?
The challenge for corporations and corporate communicators generally, is that social media is still not the primary communication platform, but rather a distant second- or third-tier outlet. It’s the place a candy company goes to engage its customers about what the next flavor or color will be.
The tool of choice remains a well-crafted, message prone press release stating the company’s reaction, most likely in a muted form. The press release is more than 140 characters, and certainly not penned with the spice and vigor of a tweet.
The last thing most corporations want to do is publicly take on a President or Washington, for fear of retaliation and retribution. That’s why you rarely see anything more than a paragraph’s statement when a company is hit by an OSHA or EPA fine. You want to be responsive to your stakeholders, so issue a tightly-worded press release and move on. If you’re lucky, you can do this on a Friday after the market closes, with the hopes that not many people are seeing it, considering Saturday news reading and viewing are the lowest numbers of the week.
But Twitter is a whole new ball game. When The Donald tweets, millions of followers see it, and then they retweet it. His pithy phrases get echoed through cyberspace.
Corporate communicators will need to change their styles in this new world order. Instead of balanced language, they will need to be more provocative, and this will no doubt go against the grain of many corporate executives who will fear this edginess will add fuel to the jousting volley.
The key here is not to let social media comments knock you down, but in fact, to rise up and stand your ground. So, when the tweet says “cancel the contract with Boeing,” an appropriate response would be: “Mr. President, we honor our agreements … but happy to work with you on a resolution.” When threatening a company who needs to move jobs out of the U.S., that company would be better to talk, not balk: “Mr. President, happy to discuss ways we can stay.”
We have a new communication landscape, and corporations need to recognize our President-elect is using social media more effectively, and they’re going to have to change with the times and join the discussion much more rapidly than before. Trump’s use of social media as a primary source of direct communication is going to raise the prominence of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms to a level we’ve never seen. Corporations need to prepare, and they need to do so fast!
Stan Steinreich is the president and CEO of Steinreich Communications Group, a global public-relations firm based in Manhattan.