Social media creates new stakeholder expectations

An issue is sometimes said to arise from a gap between the actions of an organisation and the expectations of its stakeholders.

But the emerging popularity of social media is having a major impact on issue management, especially on an organisation’s stakeholder relationships and stakeholder expectations.

My chapter in a new report on trends in public relations says social media hasn’t necessarily changed the way we think about issues. But it has dramatically changed the community’s expectation of what is acceptable corporate behaviour.  It has also increased the community’s capacity to express those expectations.

The rise of social media has certainly created a more level playing field between those with power and those affected by exercise of power. However a less recognised impact of social media is the way community expectation is changing. And that has significant implications for the future of issue management.

One vivid example of new stakeholder expectations arose in late 2010 when The Gap clothing chain announced a change to its long-time logo, triggering a firestorm of protest around the world. In the face of widespread opposition, the company promptly said it would ‘crowd source’ a new logo. Within days they jettisoned that plan and reverted to the original logo

Although history is littered with brand fiascos – think New Coke and Vegemite iSnack 2.0  – the Gap logo backflip helped popularise an emerging stakeholder concept: that brands ‘belong’ to consumers and not manufacturers. Promoting this trend, influential bloggers argued that Gap had no ‘right’ to change the logo without consumer consultation and support.

Some commentators have argued that Gap management grossly over-reacted to online criticism from a small but very vocal minority. Others claim the entire episode was a marketing stunt. The truth about this case may continue to be debated. Yet the fact is that for The Gap – and for many others – stakeholders now have different expectations about how organisations should behave and about their own role in how issues are managed.

Working from the platform provided by the social media, stakeholders are reconfiguring the traditional ‘expectation gap’ and issue managers cannot afford to ignore that change.

The full report – Public Relations 2011: Issues, insights, ideas – was edited by Sydney consultant Craig Pearce, who commissioned chapters from eleven industry leaders from all over the globe.  He says he put the report together as he wanted to collect some smart thinking in a single location from intelligent global peers that would be of use to PR professionals.  It is available free from Craig’s website.


About managingoutcomes

Issue and crisis management expert
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