The Art of Engagement

 “The opposite of control is trust. Resist the urge to control.”

A psychologist at Duke University recently offered these words of advice to prospective parents, but these same words can be applied to business too.

The 2012 Edelman Trust barometer shows a significant decline in CEO trust. Employees and a  “person like me” are more trusted as spokespersons for an organization. Social networking, micro-blogging, and content sharing sites saw the highest jump as trusted sources of information.

People no longer accept “corporate speak.” They want to engage with a “real” person – someone who listens and understands their concerns. Instead of disseminating messages with a well-rehearsed voice, companies need to relinquish control and allow their employees to engage in the conversation. The public wants transparency – employees can bridge the gap.

Students, too, are delving beyond the glossy admissions brochures and  “corporate college talk” – one blue booklet begins to look like another. Last year CNN highlighted the use of social media by universities to attract applications and enrollment.

The key to any successful campaign is communicating with the audience wherever they are. High school, students live in the online world. To compete, universities need to be creative and engage with prospective students in the social space.

Postcards with QR codes, linking to websites generate more excitement than yet another heavy envelope with tons of reading – at least they did in my house, if only for the novelty factor.

Facebook pages are the norm for accepted students to initiate conversations, build relationships, and learn more about the institution they may or may not attend. Yes, the pages are password protected, and monitored by current students or members of the admissions team, but the university has little control over the conversation. It has to let go and trust its own students to be its voice – a more transparent and trusted voice.

Over the past week, I have watched universities use social media to engage accepted students. From welcome YouTube videos to mobile apps with maps and schedules, universities are pulling out all the stops to connect with their audience. At Duke, the students were provided with a special hash tag at the start of the visit and told that the best would be read at the closing ceremony – who doesn’t love a competition! Kids uploaded pictures from around campus and professed their love for the school. The university resisted the urge to control the message. Not only were the students engaged, but the university also received wider publicity through all the follower networks – a win-win all round.

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Will a new Facebook “enemy” app become its own worst enemy?

As a society, we equate the number of “friends” or “likes” we collect on our social networks with popularity and status, but how would we feel if we were tagged as an “enemy”? Hurt, confused, insecure, or even threatened?

Unfortunately, our fears may soon be a reality. EnemyGraph, a new free app for Facebook built by graduate students at the University of Texas, allows users to make an “enemy” of their “friends,” public figures, and companies with Facebook pages.

Dean Terry, director of the emerging media program at the university argues that the new app provides balance and that people often bond over their common dislikes.  That’s true, but do we need to promote the term “enemy?” So far, Facebook has resisted the addition of a “dislike” button.

Currently making the top of the “enemy” list are Justin Bieber, Facebook Timeline, racism, MacDonald’s restaurants, and Rush Limbaugh – all fair game we might agree. The numbers using the app are still too low to have any significant impact on reputation, but companies that don’t meet public expectations may have to watch this space in the future.

My concern is not for the public figures and companies who are now more adept at engaging in the social space and responding to negativity, but for individuals. In response to criticism suggesting this is a “bully app,” a statement on the app’s Facebook page offers, “You have to be Facebook friends with someone in order to make them an “enemy.” To our knowledge anyone using this function is doing it in jest.”

Naïve! Try telling that to an emotional teenager who has been publically shunned in front of his or her “friends.” For sure, some will use it in fun, just as they are “married” to their best friends, but there is a fine line between harmless fun and bullying. “Enemy” is a harsh term.

Since the app was launched, it has had several teething problems – with the rising number of negative comments from its users, the app may fast become its own worst “enemy.”

So far, Facebook has not joined the conversation. Perhaps it, too, is hoping the app will self-destruct. What do you think – is this app fair game or will it cause more harm than good?