At the beginning of February, Citigroup launched a new Web site to speak directly to clients, employees, shareholders and other stakeholders. Called The New Citi Blog, the site is part blog, part social media and all extension of Citi's PR and internal communications departments.
Featuring video testamonials from a range of Citi employees and already two posts by CEO Vikram Pandit, the site tries to send multiple messages to multiple audiences. Citi is a good place to work, Citi values its clients, Citi is serious about risk management, the Citi organization is getting better at working together.
Citi might or might not be a viable institution in its current form, but this new Web site is a good tool to communicate management's vision and put a human face on the much maligned bank. Citi is taking advantage of the Web to go around media to get its message direct to stakeholders. Sure, media is still important and the third party validation is more valuable than the obvious corporate spinning going on at New.Citi.com, but this could be an important tool to reach the people Citi needs to reach. Besides, it is unlikely that the media are buying whatever Citi is selling, so the bank needed a new channel.
Companies need to realize that the Web and social media provide conduits to go direct to the stakeholders that matter the most. Before these technologies it simply was not possible to effectively present a company's view of complex situations or defend itself from criticism, much less engage people -- in large numbers -- in a dialog. Companies now can inject their own voice into the debate and have new tools to actively take charge of their reputation.
For this reason, I routinely disagree with PR people who say that the Internet has killed the news release. If anything, news releases are more valuable now than they ever have been, because of the reasons above and the fact that a news release on the Internet now has a more diverse audience than just the media.
The media still matter. It's just that now the media don't necessarily have to have the last word.