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Multinational Corporations and Social Media

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Communication is important for all organizations. Yet communication relies a lot upon a shared language, a prerequisite that may not exist in many international business or politics situations. That clearly is when the conflicts and problems start. A number of Multinational Corporations (MNCs) now push themselves into the social media arena. I feel it is extremely difficult to understand how most MNCs under-estimate the analysis of communication tools among their customers and social watchdogs.

MNCs, such as British Petroleum, Nike, IBM or Walmart, are increasingly important actors on the global business landscape. They have contributed significantly to the trend of global production and consumption. They have been attempting to create a systematic channel where they can personalize their brands and operations to global consumers. The use of various social networking tools such as Twitter, Facebook or Myspace has become a norm of practice. 

However, the way they manipulate "us" via the use of social networking tools is not well-reported in the mainstream media. For instance, KFC keeps pushing messages such as, "It's Pepsi MAX that is being added to the KFC menu -- the new zero calorie cola. It's really good." Or -- "Sometimes the Colonel has to leave the keyboard and go to the kitchen. Sorry I missed you. Thanks for being KFC fans." 

Clearly, KFC try to personify its competitive brand by reviving Colonel Sanders to communicate with their global customers. The problem, for me, is companies, such as KFC or Pizza Hut, keep pushing their products in the market to young people who may not be aware of their marketing communication strategies. Why don't they promote healthier options such as water or juice (instead of their oily products) to young people who are always on Twitter? The bottom line is obviously money.

BP is another interesting example in the world of social media. When we look at their marketing communication via a social networking instrument. On their Twitter, they keep pushing messages such as ...

"Millions of BP dollars helped to move the largest construction project in #Alabama."

"Learn more: #BP is committed to developing #AlternativeEnergy businesses to meet world's future #energy needs." 

"Seafood passes the test. Testing shows seafood is 100 to 1,000 times below level of concern."

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We are happy for BP to be a good global corporation, but we also need to know how much BP aim to commit to the victims of oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Using a social networking tool to communicate with the world clearly is not enough to convince us.

MNCs should make their customers feel that they are being honest when it comes to global communication. The messages that they use to communicate with their followers on micro blogs, such as Twitter or facebook, must be more action-oriented than promotional messages. I believe that all MNCs must act upon their social responsibilities, and the use of honest and sincere messages with their followers in the social network domain is one way to show their responsibilities.      


Nattavud Pimpa is a senior lecturer in international management at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) in Australia. He is also on twitter.com/nattpimpa

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