Social Media and Business Communication
The explosive popularity of social media platforms presents an attractive opportunity for businesses—millions of people use these online services daily. Social media offer intriguing new communication channels for organizational members to share information and talk to various stakeholders. Importantly, the rise of social media offers the prospect for our discipline to engage in research and pedagogy in an area that is in high demand by students, industry constituents, and colleagues in other disciplines.
At the Kenan-Flagler Business School, I am currently developing a course in social media for MBA students. The course, “Strategic Communication and Social Media,” Social Networking Part 290 Business Communication Quarterly 75(1) will be taught from a management and corporate communication perspective. While the course remains in development, my hope is that this article will convince other business communication scholars of the merits of developing topics, courses, and research involving social media. Therefore, prior to discussing the course and its two primary assignments, I will propose why I believe business communication scholars need to vigorously pursue the development of pedagogy and research in social media.
Communication to Embrace Social Media
The rapid success of social media has left corporations “in the dust” as they seek to promote their products on these platforms, develop strategies and policies, and fill newly created social media-related positions with qualified individuals (Kelly, 2010, p. 30). Companies are scrambling to hire and/or develop the newly created positions of social media directors (and similar positions) while simultaneously trying to figure out how best to use social media in the organization (Gillette, 2010).
Although by no means comprehensive, the following list offers observations supporting the need for developing pedagogy in social media:
• The use of social media is booming.
• Companies are devoting increased resources to tracking and developing
involvement in social media.
• Leaders are increasingly understanding the need to use social media but are
not sure how they fit into their organization.
• Social media are so new that companies are seeking leadership to drive strategy.
• The demand for thoughtful leadership in social media is being met by socalled experts who are providing companies with the equivalent of social
media snake oil (Baker, 2009), necessitating the development of legitimate
training and intellectual capital.
• Social media campaigns must be implemented as a part of a larger, welldefined organizational communication channel strategy.
• Companies are actively seeking candidates to fill social media leadership
• The demand for candidates with a sophisticated understanding of social
media is greater than the supply (Gillette, 2010)
Given these observations, business communication can—and I believe must—offer needed assistance to managers who are still trying to figure out how companies can best use social media in their respective organizations. Scholars have been advocating social media’s potential to add impact to our discipline’s research (e.g., Meredith, 2009, 2010) and pedagogy (e.g., D’Angelo, 2010; Meredith, 2009, 2010).
But we must act quickly to stake our claim. The discipline of marketing has been aggressively addressing the need for content relating to social media. For example, the American Marketing Association has offered many excellent virtual events and webcasts on social media topics. A colleague at the
Kenan-Flagler Business School is developing a series of courses tackling social media from a marketing perspective. She is finding that her marketing students are increasingly asked to work on social media projects in the workplace.
While the marketing discipline is doing an admirable job steering the marketer’s use of social media to speak to customers, we have the opportunity to approach social media from an integrated, management and corporate communication perspective. As previously mentioned, organizational leaders must consider social media as part of a larger, well-defined organizational communication channel strategy. Social media have value as communication tools for building and maintaining relationships with a wide range of stakeholders. Thus, we can help managers leverage social media’s potential for reaching internal and external constituents, such as employees, the media, government, shareholders, as well as customers. In turn, my course will examine the promise, pitfalls, and best practices of social media as new channels for communicating with various audiences.