Code of conduct guides social media interactions with customers

July 4, 2018

Freberg and Kim

By Karen Freberg, University of Louisville, and Carolyn Kim, Biola University

Social media and public relations go hand-in-hand in many circumstances, but nothing is as strong as the connection it has to organizational public relations (OPR). The ways individuals can engage in dialogue and conversation with brands today are limitless, but for customer inquiries and service options, we mostly see customers use social media to get immediate responses from brands

Social care, or customer service offered through social media exchanges on certain platforms, is a rising area of focus for brands. In fact, in a recent report, 67 percent of brands found social customer service to be a top priority for them for their contact centers. Yet, the academic literature on social media and public relations has not explored this area yet. Most of the research has discussed social media engagement or interactions, or perhaps traditional customer care. In regards to these interactions, some research suggests that brands need to look at improving their brand engagement and interactions through social customer service by:

"...building relationships with consumers online, companies need a cross-functional social media team, one where marketing works together with other departments. Distributing social responsibilities to relevant people across the organization can be efficient, be effective, and help make one-on-one customer engagement scalable."  -- Keith A. Quesenberry

While the industry was discussing recent case studies of how brands can effectively practice social care, there was little to no research done in this specific area. With the analysis of the current literature on OPR, reputation, credibility and trust, we decided this was a much needed area to explore and analyze to help benefit practitioners and organizations currently practicing social care.

Our research study focused on exploring what is the overall perception of social care among professionals and the general public, and if a proposed ethical decision-making framework could be proposed for social care. This study focused on a mixed method approach, starting with a case study. General Motors was one of the earliest brands to lead the practice of effective social care practices. We were able to interview 10 of the company’s social care team members through in-depth survey interviews.

The second step was to interview 15 professionals who are working in the social media field to discuss their unique perspectives on social care. In both cases, the professionals felt that social care was a relational function for the organization. Social care helps organizations establish credibility while having the opportunity to get closer to their customers in order to build stronger relationships.

After the first two stages, we came up with an initial code of conduct to help guide ethical decision making practices. This was inspired by the PRSA’s Code of Ethics, but it is tailored and specific to social care for brands:

  • Transparency
  • Respectfulness and empathy
  • Immediacy
  • Privacy
  • Responsiveness
  • Customer-centric

These principles help gauge the important areas that need to be practiced, embraced and emphasized in each online conversation with audiences for a brand.

The last step was a survey (launched by Survey Monkey) to the general public on their perceptions of what social care is and what are key areas of importance for them. This was also an opportunity to test out whether or not the audience members agreed with these initial ethical principles in our social care code of conduct.

We hope this research can help spark future work in the area of social care for public relations. Social care is a new area to explore in within OPR practice and ethics research. Future opportunities could explore the different practices brands have with social care, the impact of having a strong social care policy in place during a crisis and even the key personality characteristics and skills needed to be part of the social care team.

As more audiences are going online for inquiries, complaints and questions, social care will continue to rise as a fundamental area of focus for establishing and sustaining mutually beneficial relationships. Having a great experience through social care can help an organization’s reputation significantly.

This research was funded by the Page Center through a Page/Johnson Legacy Grant. In addition, research from this grant has been presented at Institute for Public Relations’ The Bridge Conference (April 2018), and a manuscript has been submitted for publication focusing on the initial case study from General Motors.