I’ve been exploring corporate risk in employee social media engagement lately and the concept of “employee brand fumbles” keeps popping into in my head. Without the proper training and support, an innocently-intentioned Tweet or Facebook status update by an employee can cause brand or financial damage to the corporation.
I’m reminded of a friend (a nurse) who posted how much he dreaded going into work one day because “the doctors hate everyone”. A simple post in a “somewhat” private network. Now consider:
- 3 months after that post my wife and I (both his “friends” on Facebook) were scheduled to have a baby at that hospital…we didn’t
- In the same circle of friends was a union representative (also his “friend” on Facebook) who started “an investigation” into the conduct of doctors with the nurses at that hospital…it made the newspapers
Fast forward and it turns out he was just venting about one doctor who he had had some words with the day before (about a mistake that he had made).
A Brand Fumble
A fumble in (American) football occurs when the player who has possession and control of the ball loses it before being tackled or scoring. If the defensive player is successful in picking up the ball, a turnover occurs and the opposing team can take possession.
This is an excellent analogy of the social media risk employees pose to the enterprise when management does not take an active stance in educating and supporting them. Thus failing to leverage the brand’s greatest social media asset and expands their social risk gap.
The brand fumble allows competitors to “scoop up the ball” and run with the opportunity. Unwittingly, these fumbles create a corporate sieve, which allows prospect leads and existing customers to seep out.
Most employees, like my friend the nurse, don’t wish to harm the brand they work for but “fumble the brand” when not focused or trained.
A Forced Fumble
Back to Football rules: a fumble may be forced by a defensive player who either grabs or punches the ball or butts the ball with his helmet (“tackling the ball”).
This is the another dynamic at play that can force brand fumbles when critics, competitors or disgruntled customers push corporate staff into online discussions they are not equipped or trained to have. Footballs tend to bounce in unpredictable ways and it’s the same with Tweets or status updates. Well-intentioned and loyal Customer Service or PR reps (for example) reach out to satiate unhappy customers or influencers, but without the proper training and content support, they could trip into a dialogue that simply fuels the fire.
Trying to recover a fumbled football is risky business. There are many famous examples where the player attempting to do so fumbled the ball back to the other team. (example: Dallas Cowboys defender Leon Lett fumbled during Super Bowl XXVII while celebrating during his own fumble return).
In the corporation, employees require the guidance of a social media support team to recover the fumble properly (if the ball remains loose, all players on the field move towards it creating even more chaos and more difficult for the original player to recover the ball).
In many organizations, this is being done by big-brotheresque software such as Hearsay Social, which claims to exist to “keep corporations and their employees out of trouble on the internet and turn social media into a source of brand engagement, not embarrassment”. The company reports that the software monitors employees’ engagement on Facebook and Twitter and then trains them how to send out brand messages at a local level.
In theory, this is a good idea but creates the impression among employees that they are being “watched”. And we all know perception is reality. Management must encourage employees to build their brand and customer relationships socially but must start with proactive training and guidelines, not reactive monitoring.
I’m not advocating that brands don’t monitor social media channels; clearly this is a critical PR function for brand reputation management. However, Big Brother software like Heresay actively targets employees, which discourages social engagement for fear of employer retribution. Employees can be your brand’s strongest advocates but will only do so with encouragement and training, not monitoring and policing.
In Football, “ball security” is a term used to describe the ability of a player to maintain control over the football during play and thus avoid a fumble. This is a valuable business lesson. For the enterprise, “brand security” in the employee’s social media engagement is maintained by awarding the employee your trust, encouraging them to reach out and manage online conversations – promote them even – with adequate training and policies that empower and guide them.
By Sam Fiorella
Feed Your Community, Not Your Ego
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- Social Media and The Widening Corporarte Risk Gap
- Social Media Policy: Good Cop/Bad Cop
- Employees. The Brand’s Greatest Social Asset
*Image Credit: Max Waugh