Social Media at Your Company – Policies

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,
Social Steve

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14 Comments

Filed under social media, social media marketing, social media policy, Social Steve, socialmedia, SocialSteve

14 responses to “Social Media at Your Company – Policies

  1. Natural human behaviour is to engage and communicate. Perfect to have company policy on confidentiality and then guide employees to use social media naturally, otherwise as you suggest it will simply return to a broadcast service with a script. People being themselves is energising and invigorating for connected communities to see accessible and approachable people within companies. The scope of communication is so excting today as opposed to ten years ago and can only go forwards.

    If businesses are scared so be it, as long as they stand aside and let real people continue to use the internet effectively as they have already accepted it as part of life and society.

  2. I think some companies are so scared of a negative thing that an employee might say that they craft overly draconian social media policies that cause employees to say nothing at all — positive or negative — about the company.

    What do I think about the company I work? About their product? Sorry, no comment.

    • Khurt – I agree with you about companies being scared – and this is a problem (as I see it). They are missing an opportunity. Typically, these are the same companies that lack innovation. Thanks for the comments.

      • A missed opportunity yes. Whatif of someone called them on the phone or met them at a trade show or conference and start a discussion or raised a negative or positive point. Would these companies still ignore the customer or client in the same manner that they react to what they see as ‘new technology’?

        It amazes me the businesses with the backward thinking approach to engaging with the people ‘they serve’. By engaging they could have such a better understanding of their network and community.

        If they are scared, what are they doing to be scared of? Yes there will be negative as in any situation but if this is a massive leap from their comfort zone they should be asking themselves more searching questions. It is time to revert to genuine communication not late 20th century broadcasting.

      • Jeff

        Thought’s around what if one of your employee’s does make a negative comment that damages the brand in their social sphere or encourages that sphere to do that? At one level it’s one persons opinion, on another level, others count on everyone’s support inside the company to function as a team – not a detractor.

      • Yes – that could happen, but a waitress could tell a customer there are roaches in the kitchen. At some point you have to have trust in your employees that earn your trust. I am not saying let everyone be a spokesperson for the brand. Also worth noting that anyone can say anything in their own sphere.

  3. Ewout Dekkinga

    The good of social media channels are the bottom-up flow of ideas. The bad is that it spreads very quickly. So ugly messages are spreading faster than an image can be built. Defining a company strategy about social media should be aware of these aspects.

    Using a top-down approach, where people communicate on behalf of the company is like the ‘billboard’ function of many Websites. That doesn’t justice the power of social media.

    A laissez-faire approach in which individuals have the freedom to express themselves might not have the desired effect. Without a clear line in the story they become one of the many millions.

    Naturally, the best advertisement for a company is praise from customers and partners. But that is not a merit of social media. Social media just makes it easier to utilize this process.

  4. James Fray

    Steve,

    Great article. Curious as to your thoughts on this sportscaster’s recent firing due to what he tweeted: http://is.gd/CkQ0SR [From The Star]

    • Thanks James.

      I really can not comment on the article or event as I do not know all the facts. I will say this in general … yes there is freedom of speech, but everyone needs to understand that while saying something is not illegal, there are ramifications of broadcasting your views. Clearly, I have strong feelings on some politically, cultural, societal, religious, ethical, etc. issues that I do not broadcast and social media guidelines should address this as well. I look at some people I follow and I am surprised by some things that are put out in public. I do believe in transparency and have written on this subject, but certainly some personal thoughts should be filtered.

  5. very interesting discussion. In the work I’m doing now, trying to identify guidelines that are understood and not frightening, I discover that sometimes its not “the company” (read the decision makers) that are so scared, I many cases it’s the employee itself that is scared of “saying something that the company would not like”, so they are the ones asking for guidelies, something they can refer to that makes them more sure of what they can write or not..thats an interesting approach, because then you start your guidelines from another end “what do we want you to do” instead of “what do we don’t want you to do” and who are “we” in this case…

    So my follow up question to you, what would you say is the difference between a policy and a guideline in social media? These words are used in different contexts and I find it hard to know what is what…

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