If you start with the notion that your employees are your company’s biggest potential advocates, what’s the best way to empower them to represent your company in social media? Are there times when encouraging your employees to suppress their urge to share is the best path? Do you promote the active use of social media among employees because they are a potential force for good or do you discourage them from making comments that haven’t gone through the filters of your legal and marketing teams to guarantee a more consistent company voice?
These questions are being asked in board rooms across a multitude of different industries. Businesses ranging from small startups with a staff of less than a dozen face the same dilemma as much larger Fortune 500 companies boasting a staff numbering into the tens of thousands.
Your company brand is valuable. It is important for your company to maintain some level of control over its public image while establishing clear guidelines about how transparent the company presents itself online. A clear distinction between staff opinion and your brand should be apparent to anyone reading their individual social feeds.
Customers (or potential customers) that happen to follow one or more of your employees should be able to tell the difference between what an employee says about the company they work for and the company itself.
Benefits to Employee Social Media Engagement
Before defining social media guidelines, identify what the benefits are to encouraging social media openness among your employees.
Free publicity and the potential for relationship building between employees and customers are two obvious benefits. Many social media users respond positively to being able to match a face with a brand. They might not care so much about which computer company they buy their PC through, but they follow Sandra from Panasheba on Twitter and might be more inclined to give Panasheba’s products a look as a result. If Sandra is given the ability to answer questions asked by their Twitter followers about Panasheba products (with respect to their level of knowledge) then all the better. Customers don’t typically care about companies, but they frequently care about people who connect and engage with them on their favorite social network.
Another benefit might come in taking an activity your employees already take part in and injecting a positive customer-centric culture. Imagine the difference between a company that has a blanket ban on social media for employees and one that allows it with some minor caveats regarding expectations. The first option is likely to be met with rebellion. Keeping employees off Facebook or Twitter on their phones is a very difficult policy to enforce. By telling your employees you’re quite alright with them being public about their employment with your company and/or what you like about the job, you’re more likely to have your requests honored.
Potential Downsides to Employee Social Media Engagement
There are some downsides to be aware of. Productivity levels depend on focus and social networks can be distracting without some clear guidelines. There’s also a risk that associating a person with the company can backfire if the person later leaves for a new opportunity.
Workplace norms and the company culture can help define what social media behaviors are acceptable, though it’s a generally accepted rule that you can’t focus intently on a task while your Facebook notifications window is popping up in the corner of the screen.
Keeping Social Media Simple
One of the earliest and easiest to understand social media policies came out of Microsoft back in 2005. Robert Scoble, co-author of the blogging bible Naked Conversations, summed it up this way:
At Microsoft we have a blogging policy. It’s simply “be smart.” Or, if that isn’t clear enough: “don’t be stupid.”
In the end: It all comes down to culture. Does your company create a culture that drives passion and ownership from the top down? If it does, you might find that social media is a great avenue for promoting not only your brand, but the quality of your staff.
Image: Wikimedia Commons