The person at the controls may be a seasoned writer or just the brightest intern in the room. They may be posting every day or only once in a while. They may know everything about your company and its practices, or they may have just started work this afternoon.
Is the voice you're putting out to the online world consistent and strong?
You need a social media policy to create consistency. Your online team needs to know what is expected of them and they need to know how to perform well. Here are some steps for success.
1. Write down what you stand for as a company. Discuss this document with everyone who is posting online. What you stand for - otherwise known as your 'brand' - is a deep look at the company's values, your values, why you do what you do, and why your customers, clients and friends should care. If you can't decide what you stand for - maybe it's time for a company retreat to work that out. This is a key component to your consistency online and to your overall success.
2. Support individuality but stay on message. Many company accounts have multiple posters. Encourage them to let their voice come through, but also make it clear that they are posting for the brand and what the brand stands for. (See #1 above.) Your brand concept should be robust enough to allow for individuality and variation. Let staffers' individual accounts get as edgy as they like. Your company account shouldn't be - unless you are an edgy brand.
3. Respect authorship. Be sure everyone who has access to your accounts knows not to blog or Tumblr copyrighted material from others as though it is your own. This is especially true about images and videos. You can find lots of great images to use at search.creativecommons.org that are okay to use for free.
4. Don't steal. Give credit when retweeting or reposting others' material. I will write things like 'VIA/@redcupagency' or 'from Lee Schneider' on Twitter so my sources are attributed. Given the pace of social media, it's almost impossible to create enough meaningful posts on your own, so it's okay to share, and honoring the work of others is good for building community.
5. Encourage dialogue. When staffers are posting, encourage them to ask questions and be open. Do you want to be the bore at a party who is only talking about you? Didn't think so. Being relentlessly self-promotional will make people turn away.
6. To paraphrase @pourmecoffee, do not argue on the internet. Conversations are okay, of course, but confrontation rarely creates dialogue.
What if You Screw Up?
Online media involves conversation, sometimes passionate, and there will be disagreements, complaints and issues. I have had a few fabulous online screwups myself, including posting about milk on an all-vegan Facebook feed (vegans do not eat meat, fish, poultry, milk or eggs). I had to apologize on Facebook for that. And once I tried to get coverage for an event by asking journalists a bit too boldly to write about us. I drew fire from one journalist who didn't like my outgoing approach. Live and learn, I say, and here's what I can share from those experiences.
If there is conflict, respond as soon as you can. Staffers who are posting on your behalf should let you know immediately about complaints, negative comments or other issues posted online. Don't 'wait for it to go away.' It usually doesn't. If a staffer posting on your behalf isn't sure how to respond, they should feel no barrier to asking you for guidance.
Don't delete complaints. Leave them up there, but respond. Your audience will see the value in reaching out to you and more importantly, will see that you are willing to be human and respond.
Apologize, be humble, and rectify issues as soon as you can. Do this in public, right on Twitter or Facebook. Offer what you can to make it right. Generally I will DM, private message or email the person, if offering them a store credit, if that is appropriate. (If you offer a store credit publicly to everyone who has an issue with you, you will soon be issuing more store credits than you want.)
Companies from Nordstrom to Microsoft have developed and posted social media policies, as Derek Overbey, Senior Social Media Manager at VerticalResponse, noted in a recent blog.
They're doing it - you should, too. It's a good idea to get everyone who is posting on the same page, with a consistent message and an understanding of the shared values you put out into the world.