How to make social media work in your favour

How to make social media work in your favour

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Webster Leiden Campus is an American university based in Leiden. Their mission in the Netherlands is to enrich the lives of global citizens by offering a flexible, innovative and practical education in a culturally diverse setting.

We had a talk with the director of Webster, Jean Paul van Marissing, about why it is so important for companies to communicate well with their audience. 

Jean Paul van Marissing has been the Director of Webster Leiden Campus for 8 years, and he was a lawyer at a global law firm for 15 years. Before that, he was a diplomat at the EU. So, if there is anyone qualified to talk about global communication and mindset – he is definitely it.

Coincidentally, this is the mission at Webster; shaping students into global citizens who have a global mindset and are happy and successful in the world in which we live today.

More connected than ever

The world in which we live today is more connected than ever before. This is, of course, down to the internet and social media.

"Today's world is more connected than ever before" ~Jean Paul

It also means that any message you post or send can be picked up by any audience, even the ones it is not intended for. The message reaches a much bigger audience, much faster.

So, if you make a mistake, the impact will be bigger than it was before. This means that you need to be aware and more precise in your timing than ever before.

Here are a few examples of ways companies have communicated with their audiences in the past:

Example 1: Facebook – React fast

A good example is the recent Facebook debacle, a.k.a the whole deal with Mark Zuckerberg and the Cambridge Analytica data leak. Mark did not react on time - he was actually silent for days - even though everything nowadays is 24/7.

In a time like this, how can a CEO stay silent for so long? Some say this was because Facebook was assessing the situation and the legal impacts it would have on the company. However, this is not an acceptable excuse. Thus, Facebook was criticised because of this. Mark apologised pretty much everywhere. But as his reaction was so late, people are lead to wonder whether it was actually sincere.

There is also the question of whether or not an apology is enough to remedy the breach of confidence that the leak caused and the absence of a reaction from Mark. Today, you need to react fast. You can’t wait for days; you can’t even wait a few hours.

Example 2: United Airlines – The right message

Do you remember the case where a passenger had booked a seat on a United Airlines flight, but the flight turned out to be overbooked? First, the passenger was allowed on the plane, but after finding out it was overbooked, he was asked to leave by the cabin crew. When he refused, the crew got violent and the man suffered a head injury. All the while, the event was being recording by another passenger. This video went viral.

In this case, the CEO responded on time, but not with the right message, as he only apologised for the overbooking and not the violence. Wrong answer. The shares of United Airlines plummeted, and the company lost about 1 billion dollars in stock value. After the depreciation of their stocks, the CEO released another message, now apologising for the violence.

Picking the right message is difficult, but it makes the outcome decidedly different. If the CEO had apologised for both for the overbooking and the violence at the same time, the situation would have turned out very differently. The moral here is that you need to send the right message.

Example 3: Starbucks – The right way

In this case, two innocent people of colour were in Starbucks waiting for a friend. They hadn’t ordered anything. A staff member then proceeded to call the police; they came and, without asking any questions, removed the two people. The CEO reacted immediately and apologised personally. He stated that he did not know the full details yet and that the incident would need to be investigated.

He also stated that it was unacceptable that they were removed for just waiting, and that they, as a company, needed to look into how they trained their staff. Later, another message was posted saying that they would train all their staff members and that shops would be shut for a few hours so that the training could take place. Visible action was thus taken.

Cases like this can have a great impact on a company and therefore it’s inadvisable to wait until you know all the facts. Instead, you can give a genuine reaction like this CEO, who explicitly said he didn’t know all the facts, but would look into it.

Be aware

Nowadays, you need to be aware of how you communicate. It is not only the company that is affected; shareholders and consumers also feel the impact of a company’s communication or lack thereof. This differs from 10 years ago, when you could say that you needed time to investigate and not release a statement for days. Today, that is simply not good enough.

If you want to be a CEO, you need awareness and willingness to react as soon as a situation calls for it- being on holiday is not an excuse. You need to have the necessary communication skills in your toolkit.

Be authentic

Another skill you need in your communication toolkit is authenticity- you need to be able to mean it- not just apologise because your PR team told you to. Today with videos being shared around the world, it is easy to see if you are not being sincere.

The way you present yourself has an impact

Whether you strive to be a CEO or are just using your own social media account, communication skills are of the utmost importance. You are your own CEO, and the way you present yourself to the world has an impact.

Communication skills are important for any kind of job. Webster Leiden Campus can help you build your communication skills, so that you know how to react fast and well to a situation.

Contact Webster Leiden

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Jean Paul Van Marissing


Jean Paul Van Marissing

Prof. Dr. Jean Paul van Marissing is the director of Webster University Leiden & Amsterdam since 2010. Before he was a partner and lawyer for 12 years with two American...

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