Social media has transformed the model of how companies will have to behave. They should no longer focus so much on the way they appear – their PR image – but more on the way they actually behave. Otherwise their spin will be immediately exposed by the crowd, and they won’t fool anyone. This seems to be the thrust of a high-profile new business book Who Cares Wins, by the boss of the Havas advertising group, David Jones. At an interesting on-stage conversation last night organised in conjunction with the Stone Club, Mr Jones was interviewed by the BBC’s Justin Webb – who wittily suggested this would be the opposite of a ‘Today’ Programme interview, because he would ask the questions then actually give his guest the chance to respond. David Jones repeatedly asserted that companies who didn’t do the right thing would be ‘taken down’ by the power of the mass Twitterati, YouTubers and Facebook-ites.
There is clearly some truth in this – although I think only in the case of consumer-facing businesses (the famous Domino’s ‘disgusting Pizza’ video was among the examples quoted) and companies who do the rest of us harm (tax-evaders, marine polluters etc). As he puts it, ‘in the world of radical transparency, reality is more important than image’. Mr Jones asserted that the younger generation are far more engaged and aware than their predecessors, and don’t want to work for what they perceive as ‘bad organisations’. In fact, I believe only a tiny minority are engaged in this way, they’re just making a lot of noise on social media. It would be lovely to believe that we are about to see a mass movement of social responsibility from big companies – even if they are forced into it by fear of social media retribution – but I doubt it. David Jones is right that the power of social media is growing, and companies had better get used to it. But I suspect the obsession with image, good PR and style over substance will be with us for a long time to come.