For a while, it felt like social media was under the radar for many companies. Something they gave to interns or outsourced to agencies. The better companies experimented with being more transparent than ever before, overlooking the typical safety nets around corporate communication.
Lately though I’ve sensed a backlash brewing about potential liabilities around corporate social media. For a start, there are the the big regulatory SEC issues, like those in this WSJ article.
The article talks about eBay hiring a “social-media veteran to be an ‘internal reporter’ to increase transparency and put a face on the company.” Ultimately, the experiment proved too transparent and they had to muzzle the social-media veteran so they didn’t violate SEC disclosure rules.
“There’s much more of a microscope on what I’m doing now,” he said.
I sense that this microscope is broader than just SEC concerns and will start to guide many companies to be more risk-adverse with social media. In a meeting recently, I heard someone say that the “summer of free social media love” was going to come to an end.
It will be interesting to watch. I actually think this microscope creates an incredible opportunity for companies still willing to put themselves out there. For companies with something interesting to share and the courage to say it, social media can amplify their voice far louder than their size. The microscope will keep others mute.
In 2003, Levi Strauss (revenue £2.8bn) threatened to sue Howies (revenue £300K) because they claimed Howies jeans infringed a patent. Howies leveraged its transparency and openness against the legal risk aversion of Levi Strauss to win the contest in an hysterical battle they called “Operation Tickle“.
“We introduced a colour-blind test for people buying our jeans. Just to make sure they could tell the difference between grey (ours) and theirs (red). We also introduced a spelling test, too. We asked our customers to spell corporation, oppression, Machiavellian etc. Of course they had to spell Levis and howies as well. If people failed the spell test, we refused to sell them the jeans”
The growing social media microscope will help distinguish companies that are willing to openly interact with their customers with real honesty. This is David’s new slingshot.