Well, that’s how I interpreted the words of Rolls Royce Director of Communications Peter Morgan in the latest issue of Corp Comms Magazine. I appreciate that I didn’t attend the event where he is supposed to have made the statements below – but I don’t doubt that Corp Comms Editor Helen Dunne has faithfully recorded what he said.
According to Morgan: “I was communications director at BT for five and a half years. I’ve been communications director at Rolls-Royce for about six months. I don’t think there is a single example where social media has impacted directly on the reputation or share price of either of these significant organisations.”
The phrase I picked up on here was “impacted directly”. What about the indirect impact of social media on a company’s reputation with its customers? Surely if BT or any other organisation continually ignores grievances voiced by customers on social networks then this is surely indicative of a deeper malaise within the company? And that sooner or later those chickens will come home to roost?
“If a subject gains traction in the social media domain, if it is important, it very quickly feeds into the mainstream press. And when the Daily Mail phones to tell you that you’ve got a problem, you know you’ve got a problem. There is a self-alerting mechanism.”
But how can the Daily Mail call Peter Morgan? Although he is listed on the Rolls Royce corporate website as a media contact, he stands out from the rest of his colleagues as being the only one who doesn’t have his phone number listed (reminded me of the Director of Customer Relations for a FTSE 250 firm, who, as a matter of policy, refused to talk to customers).
Morgan seems to view social networks as simply feeder channels for the mainstream media. In other words, a social media topic is only validated if it is picked up by a traditional big media outlet. Dealing with the Daily Mail et al should therefore still be the top priority for a corporate comms director. Presumably Morgan isn’t one of the 54pc of senior communications directors who think that their key challenge for 2010 is executing a digital strategy.
He continues: “For decades, there have been people in pubs all around Britain saying how much they hate BT or how frustrated they are with Virgin Atlantic or whatever. The fact that they now spout their opinions on a social networking site doesn’t make them any more important or more alarming. “
If I’ve understood his comment correctly then – in Morgan’s opinion – BT and Virgin Atlantic customers (or any organisations customers for that matter) are simply annoying oiks whose opinions are worthless. They are an irritating distraction to the main goal of making sure the share price is propped up at all costs.
In which case, the irony will not be lost on Morgan by this story in today’s Mail on Sunday in which his former employer, BT, is, gasp, monitoring and responding to negative comments on social networks – big style. If customers “spouting their opinions on a social networking site” are “neither important nor alarming”, then why is his former employer patently investing heavily in social media monitoring?
And how would Peter Morgan deal with this story if he were still at BT?
What would he do about how the story has been circulated widely online using the very social networks that he appears to regard as unimportant? Or deal with the growing number of comments the story is attracting on the MoS site itself? The bizarre irony of this piece is that most of the people commenting think the MoS has taken a daft perspective on companies paying attention to customer complaints online – but in turn, they are then using the MoS story as a platform to air their grievances about BT generally – but presumably these people are the same kind of “opinion spouters” that have been dismissed as unimportant previously.
On a different subject, anyone thinking of selling a sentiment analysis tool to Peter is also probably wasting their time:
“I’m deeply suspicious of this early warning idea. In most consumer organisations, the time taken between this becoming a good social media story (My note: what’s a bad social media story?) and this becoming a good online news story and the Daily Mail being on the phone is minutes. I think that it is a waste of money to invest in online tracking systems for social media alerting you to problems. Every problem that has come across my desk has travelled too fast for that early warning system to be of help to me.”
As I’ve said already, it appears that Peter Morgan believes dealing with traditional big media is the main priority of a corporate comms department. In which case, he is probably right to argue that using a social media tracking tool as a crisis management early warning system is flawed – but only if you view dealing with traditional big media as the top priority for a corporate comms department. Surely the modern day comms director must pay attention to what customers are saying – wherever they are saying it. And respond appropriately.
Finally: “Your company website is of critical importance. When deciding how to deploy resource, you would be rash to deploy social media at the expense of a principal corporate website. The oldest communications tool of all is frequently ignored.”
Presumably one of the oldest communications tools is the telephone – which as we’ve seen above, is one that Morgan himself seems to ignore too. At least as a two way communication tool.
So, is he a PR dinosaur? Or a voice of sanity? I wonder if he’ll stop by to comment on this post? Given his apparent attitude to social media, I assume he’ll never even be aware of its existence. But I’d be delighted to be proved wrong. I’d even be happy to take a phone call (020 8334 8095).