Social media presents a huge challenge for brands. A simple, thoughtless post about a bad day, bad boss or bad customer can go viral, sending a marketing or communications team scrambling into crisis management overdrive.
The question is: can you prevent this by dictating what employees can and can’t do on their own social media accounts, even out of office hours? If it relates to your organisation, the answer is yes.
When an employee joins an organisation, they agree to the behaviours defined in your employment contract, staff handbook and policies. A social media policy should be part of this. However, your policy may need to take into account that employees can help a brand’s reputation as well as damage it. In fact, many customers are more likely to follow the posts of a brand ambassador or celebrity employee rather than the brand itself.
Here are some tips to help you get the right balance.
Let brand dictate your policy and strategy
Understanding your brand is the best way to define your approach to social media. For example, a tech start-up that needs to take advantage of early adopters may need all the help it can get from its staff whereas a not-for-profit that provides services to vulnerable people may need to be significantly more restrictive. For some organisations, a restrictive approach is as much about protecting employees as it is about protecting the brand.
Set clear boundaries
Obviously, you want to keep your proprietary information out of the public domain, and protect the personal data of customers, colleagues and third parties. Your social media policy must be clear that posting any of this information is a disciplinary matter, as is posting anything that causes reputational damage. Employees must understand that this extends to detrimental posts about colleagues, customers and the organisation itself, including quick posts about ever-malfunctioning IT and boring meetings.
Define organisational and personal social media use
Make sure employees understand the difference. Most organisations have ‘official’ work accounts that speak for the organisation as a whole. These are supported by individual work accounts that are operated by key employees, yet are wholly focused on promoting the work of the organisation. Anything else should be considered an employee’s own personal use of social media, including their LinkedIn profile. Your policy should include logical stipulations, such as never registering for a personal account using a work email address, which prevents confusion and helps to protect you against risks such as phishing.
Don’t assume that everyone is social media savvy
Some form of guidance or training is essential for all employees, particularly raising their basic level of awareness. This includes being clear about what social media is, and your organisation’s policy towards it. For example, make sure everyone knows that social media is never private. Even if employees are only posting to friends or family, their posts can be forwarded on to others easily. And even your most prolific users probably don’t fully understand social media in the context of your brand. You will more than likely need to explain aspects such as cultural and social specificity vs. the global nature of the internet.
Coordinate social media efforts
Every organisation should have a social media strategy that takes the efforts of employees into consideration. Doing so will enable you to introduce coordination. For example, appoint social media ambassadors to help you create content that is perfectly on-brand. You can also assign specific perspectives, services or projects to different employees to avoid overlap. Coordination also prevents embarrassing mistakes such as twenty employees retweeting the same article to your entire followers list, or a single infrequent user retweeting your last two month’s content in a five-minute spree. And make it clear that the team in charge of social media has an open-door policy. If an employee is thinking about promoting something on social media, such as a day in their working life, they should come to you for advice first.
Prevent a crisis becoming a catastrophe
If something goes wrong, act swiftly but not impulsively. The aim is to take control of the conversation as quickly as possible with sensitivity and honesty. For example, deleting the offending post without addressing it could pour petrol on the fire. Equally, presuming the public interest or outrage will blow over of its own accord can be just as damaging. In practice, there are often many options for turning a negative into a positive. One of the most effective is to be clear that you understand why the post is a problem, and then set out how you intend to address it head on. Download SA Law's social media crisis infographic.
Help colleagues to understand the personal risks as well
Many users are still unaware of how social media puts themselves and their families at risk, and raising awareness about this is often greatly appreciated. As we all gravitated to social media, so did criminals, who use it to distribute phishing, perpetrate scams, and gather personal data that enables them to commit identity fraud. Corporate espionage is another key issue, particularly on professional networking services such as LinkedIn. Messages from attractive recruitment agents with fantastic job offers, who then encourage employees to talk about the projects they’re working on has become a new way to steal valuable information.
Develop a clear social media policy, strategy and roadmap
The aim is to get your policy and strategy in place, and make sure your employees understand that reading it is part of their responsibilities to the organisation. The process of educating users will occur over time, but a good starting point is to pull together some tips that your keenest ambassadors can bear in mind. After that, keep an eye on what’s happening, and provide some additional steering to get the most out your employees’ efforts.