This past week, I sat on a social media policies and education panel at PLI’s Lawyers’ Guide to Using Social Media for Professional and Client Development 2011 Conference in NYC. It was a great discussion and this is a topic I have yet to cover on my blog, so I think it is worth sharing some of the comments I made.
Before we even get into to that, let me briefly mention a few points about social execution at your company. Who should do it? Being social should not be left to one individual or one group. I will steal a line from Peter Drucker and twist it a bit. He said, “Marketing is far too important to be left to the marketing department.” And while there are few companies that have a social media departments, it is fair to say that engaging with your target audience to build strong brand reputations, relationships, and advocates should be everyone’s job in a company. This is why we need social policies (not always formal) and education. We want to have numerous brand ambassadors. And by the way … a brand ambassador need not be an employee, but you certainly want to start there.
Presumably, you already have a policy defining confidential and proprietary information as well as the use, communication, and distribution of such material. This being the case, do you really need another policy? Having a policy on “social” seems so unnatural and takes away the humanization. Your social media initiatives should really magnify the human elements of your company and the stories of your brand. So how about simply having social media guidelines?
Your social media guidelines should certainly mention your policy on confidential and proprietary information. There are no set social media guidelines that are correct. This advice is really dictated by the existing culture. But the company’s social media direction should cover three types of communication:
1) Employees communicating on behalf of the company. You need to determine who these people are and provide a style guide for communication to reinforce the brand reputation and position you seek. But for heaven’s sake, don’t make this a bureaucratic corporate style guide. Let humans be humans – talk like they talk. It is most important to set message objectives and aesthetic stylization – not scripts.
2) Employees communicating in their own personal social world. My recommendation is that you do not want to be so stringent to not allow your employees to mention your brand/company in their personal space. Remember, informal word-of-mouth is powerful and it is great to have ambassadors. “Social is too important to be left to the social media folks.” I do think the standard clause “comments are my own and do not represent opinions or positions of ” are appropriate, but define your rational limitations about what can and can not be mentioned. Be open minded and show some trust.
3) Communication about your brand from outsiders. I’ve said this a million times – people are talking about your brand without you and you can not control that. Key point – listen … have some way of monitoring the conversations going on. (See Social Media Conversation: I Know You’re Talking, But Are You Listening?) You need to determine how and if you respond to mentions of your brand – both positive and negative statements. This is important for three reasons – a) you want to engage with your audience, b) you want to help the positive mentions travel and get shared more, and c) you want to extinguish the bad stuff. The advice I usually give brands is to make sure to respond to the superlatives. What do I mean by superlatives? Look at this as an X-Y axis. The X axis represents the degree of negative or positive mention. The Y- axis represents the social reach or influence of the individual. Make sure you respond to people that have high social reach who say very strong negative or positive things about your brand, at minimum.
With a doubt, there are different views from different functional groups within your company with regards to social guidelines. These varying perspectives should all have a seat at the table when you draft your guidelines. At a minimum, consider the marketing, customer service, human resources, and legal groups.
So at the end of the day, I realize that most companies are scared about letting numerous people in their company speak about the company. But you got to believe in the power of positive socialization. And when you do allow this to happen at your company, I recognize you are going to want to have some checks and balances in place. So think about guidelines in the context that I have described here. But, please, please, please – do NOT make social a rigid corporate thing and allow social human engagement to happen in a natural voice. It will payoff and you won’t be sorry.
Make It Happen,