Social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, provide companies' customers and employees an open channel to engage in genuine, real-time communications. Because of the very openness of those channels, however, those companies expose themselves to risk.
Organizations are hungry for ways to effectively manage and control social content and conversations across multiple platforms and brands as they try to harness the power of social media in everything... from Marketing to Legal, and Human Resources (HR).
Social media continues to blur the lines between employees' professional and personal lives—creating new organizational risks. Though organizations should embrace social media as the powerful direct communications channel that it is, they need to do it the right way.
Here are six critical steps every organization should take to ensure it is practicing safe social media.
1. Put a comprehensive social media policy in place... now
Conversations about your brand, often coming from within your own staff, will take place whether you choose to participate or not.
An internal social media policy lets your employees know where they stand and helps minimize the organization's risk. In your policy, be clear about what employees can and cannot do, what's appropriate and what's not, and how the things they share can affect the company.
Break large chunks of information down into bullets and lists that employees can easily digest and implement. Also, make sure you clarify who has the authority to speak for the company on social networks, and what will happen if the rules are broken. Coca Cola's social media policy is an excellent example of a sound policy that accounts for all of those criteria.
Also, you should let your communities know how your company uses social media and how you will handle their responses. For example, be clear about what will and won't be tolerated on your social media pages. Though you may plan to erase derogatory comments, note whether or not you will keep any bad reviews of your products, which can save you from "comment filtering/erased comment" backlash.
The posting guidelines on Krispy Kreme's Facebook page offer a good example of how to handle that issue.
2. Create a workflow for consistent response
When you boil it down, the majority of the comments/posts on your Facebook page or the tweets on your Twitter account are predictable. A workflow chart can help you take the right response action quickly. Design and document a consistent way to react to different scenarios. For example, decide how you will react to happy or angry customers, product concerns or questions, and right or wrong company information.
In addition, you should plan for when and how certain matters should be escalated, and when other people in the company should be brought in to handle situations. Having the proper workflow in place can save you from a public relations meltdown.
David Armano of Critical Mass provides a prime example of a quality social media process chart.
3. Keep your users close, but your admins closer
Sometimes, the simplest things are the most important. When you build a Facebook page or Twitter account for your company, use a tool that allows you to grant access to others while keeping your admin rights protected. That'll help ensure that people can't leave the company with the keys to your social networks.
For more details on some of Facebook's admin-security issues, check out this video.
4. Educate and train employees
Effective employee education or training is the key to upholding policies, meeting regulatory requirements, and mitigating risks with any tool. Social media is no exception.
Continually educate employees about current social media policies, new programs or networks, and emerging best-practices. Hold monthly lunch-and-learn events, start a social media certification program, and make sure to arm your employees with knowledge. That can keep your company nimble and remove the fear factor from the business/personal social media dynamic.
Dell's Social Media and Communities (SMaC) University is an example of a well-thought-out employee training program that ensures employees understand the company's five "Social Media Principles."
5. When in doubt, disclose everything
"Truth and transparency" should be your corporate mantra. To build your social media empire, you have to enable your customers to trust you.
Early in your social media adventure, you may find yourself working with primary influencers—whether bloggers or consumer advocacy groups. Disclosure is absolutely vital in all aspects of those relationships. You must disclose whether they are being paid or given free products, or special access/treatment of any kind. Doing so is important not only for your company but also for the influencer. Whether you do it because it is the law or simply because it is the right thing to do and builds trust with your customers... think like Nike, and Just Do It.
For large brands, require disclaimers for all social media activity. Doing so protects the employee and the brand, and also minimizes confusion on what constitutes a personal statement versus brand commentary. A disclaimer can be as simple as a statement that reads, "The postings on this site are my own and do not represent ABC Company's opinions or positions."
6. Don't just listen, respond
Adopt a good listening strategy to give your company a distinctive edge, and make sure you monitor social media channels and respond as quickly as possible. Arming your team with information gathered from conversations about your brand, product, or industry can also help you diffuse potentially damaging situations.
Using Google Alerts, a free tool, is a good way to start, but a plethora of more comprehensive tools are available to help your organization dive deeper and gain insights/metrics about the information collected. Industry analysts, such as Altimeter Group, can offer great perspective on the available tools and how they compare with one another.
Remember, truly listening to industry chatter and consuming the wealth of insight at your disposal will empower you to respond to things more quickly and avoid surprises.
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Your social media policy can't stand alone. Be sure to tie your social media policies into your overall communication and compliance framework to most effectively minimize risk.