*This post is the 2nd in a series that discusses risk mitigation in corporate social media engagement.
With more employee-created PR nightmares making the news, C-Suite executives are raising concerns over their social media policies, or lack thereof. This has only fuelled the debate over whether policies that dictate how people communicate should even exist. Can a business’ social engagement truly be “authentic”, as demanded by social media marketers if corporate policy has orchestrated the communication?
Others argue that if you have to manage how your employees speak online “you have bigger problems to worry about”, which may be true but that doesn’t nullify the issue that a lack of social media policy will increase the corporation’s risk while simultaneously giving up valuable market share to its competitors.
A study released by Burston-Marsteller Communications reports 65% of Fortune Global 100 companies have invested in a Twitter presence and 54% have established a Facebook brand program. In addition, the growing popularity of other networks such as Google+, YouTube, Groupon, FourSquare and others, will dramatically increases the number of opportunities a business’s employees will have to publicly represent their employers online. In fact in that same study, 74% percent of chief marketing officers indicated that social media was their top business priority.
With the growing social engagement by employees and the new networks available every day, what is being done by corporations to better manage the potential risks?
The Ostrich Syndrome
Risks don’t dissipate if you simply bury your head in the sand. One client I engaged with recently stated, “…but we don’t have social media marketing program, so why should I have a social media policy?” The reality is that businesses without any social media communication plan are at an even higher risk that those with one.
Most businesses without an official social media marketing plan have HR departments engaging potential hires on LinkedIn, or sales personnel engaging in online forums to hunt for new business opportunities. Others have well-meaning customer service & marketing teams engaging in online communities to monitor for complaints or for market research.
And even if you were to ignore these unofficial online business-related activities, the reality is most employees are engaging in social networks personally with their place of employment listed in their profiles. And with every social network from LinkedIn to FourSquare actively encouraging user-generated content, businesses without a formal social media policy are not doing themselves or their employees any favors.
Onus is on the Employer
Having a proper social engagement policy in place benefits the employee as much as it does the employer.
· Employees don’t always realize the risk they pose to their employers through their professional or personal online engagement and for the most part, would welcome the education and parameters from which they can engage.
· Employers who restrict social media participation lose a competitive advantage and actually increase their risks by not educating their staff.
With the proper guidelines, even the employee’s personal engagement could reap branding and new business rewards for the business and increase the morale of the employee. At the end of the day, the onus is on the employer to both leverage this resource and protect its business’ brand regardless of whether it chooses to market through social channels or not.
Good Cop / Bad Cop
Creating policies for social media engagement has a unique set of challenges over other forms of corporate policy. If not done right, such a policy may discourage employees from engaging your online audience for fear of being reprimanded for their attempts to solve a customer complaint or build customer relations through social networks.
You have two options when considering a policy for your business:
1. Police and punish offenders by restricting online engagement or listing what can’t be done,
which creates a sense of fear that works against the business’ current or future social media marketing plans.
2. Encourage and educate employees with engagement guidelines that make them aware of the opportunities and risks to both the individual and the corporation in hopes of increasing brand awareness and opportunities with minimal risk.
The choice is simple. Even in the most restricted and regulated of industries most employees will not willingly harm their employer if educated properly, but will take every advantage to support it if encouraged – and educated – to do so. Creating a “social media enablement” policy will provide this encouragement while mitigating corporate risk.
What say you? Should your corporate social media policy play Good Cop or Bad Cop? Share your thoughts below.
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