As I write and speak about the role of employee advocates in corporate social media, I've been compelled by the research of social media expert Pam Moore, who has recently outlined her advice on the right social media policies to mitigate social business risks.
Surprisingly, there continues to be a great number of organizations that choose to opt out of social media. The risks of missteps are too great, they maintain, or they excuse their lack of social media savvy with statements like, "Our customers aren't on social media anyway," or "We've got to control what our employees are doing on company time."
This thinking is flawed. Here's the real bulletin: Ignoring social media will not make it go away (and ironically, will actually increase the risk of misuse).
But what if you reverse the equation? Instead of focusing on ways to control your employees' use of social media, why not create guidelines and programs to empower them instead? With an effective program for employee advocacy, instead of fearing what employees might do on social media, organizations can tap these individuals as a valuable resource that can make the company's brand visible from the inside out.
The phenomenon of employee advocacy is gaining popularity across a number of the world's most successful organizations including IBM, Adobe, Microsoft, and Dell. These businesses are discovering a wealth of opportunity in lead development, web activity, and the increased success that comes from communicating a consistent message from within a powerful brand.
As Moore has also reported, these organizations are discovering that certain characteristics of emerging employee advocacy programs are key. Here are nine factors to consider.
Admit that your customers really are on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter
There is nothing you can gain by hiding your head in the sand about the places your customers communicate and live. Instead of denying their presence, why not join the dialogue by communicating with your customers through their favorite platforms? Listen to their input. Observe the things they have to say. Perhaps you can even move a portion of your customer service and feedback functions to these platforms to motivate customers to communicate with you more freely in the ways that hold meaning for them. Then, with guidelines and training, invite and enable your employees to join in.
Don't believe that asking (or mandating) that employees stay off of social media will make the risks go away
The majority of your employees (in fact the majority of all adults) now own smartphones and other connected devices. They can access social media from their own equipment, and are likely to do so if companies forbid them from getting onto social media on company time. When companies attempt to forbid social media, the risks become greater -- employees are involved without the benefit of guidance and training that could make their social media use a positive thing. There is no benefit to be gained by laying down a policy that tells employees to stay away from social media and then walking away.
Don't wing it
Conceding that social media use is already happening is a first step, but for successful employee advocacy, the organization needs to formulate a social media strategy. The companies that make best use of social media have a clear vision about what they intend to accomplish and how they'll quantify and measure the corresponding results. They provide tools and training to their employees. The ability to participate is an invitation and an opportunity for employees -- not a company mandate.
As you consider your future hires, vet your incoming applicants for emotional intelligence and communications abilities, as well as their technical skills. Consider the fact that when employees misbehave on social media, in many respects the fault lies not with the availability of social media, but with the fact that the social media megaphone casts a greater light on the kinds of people you've hired. In this respect, if a problem occurs, it is perhaps a personnel issue more than an issue of social media tools.
Be careful who gets the social media keys
Social media passwords are keys to your company's kingdom. Be sure that anyone who posts on behalf of your company has a full understanding of you brand and your messaging. Many social media risks are the result of the misperception that social media management is a role you can entrust to the company's interns. Remember that those you empower will be quoted and reposted as experts as well. Have you chosen the right individuals and prepared and supported them well?
Create an editorial calendar
Avoid the tendency for random acts of marketing or random acts of PR. The editorial calendar can act as a grand master plan to ensure cohesiveness and progression of company messages over a period of time that can naturally keep the efforts of everyone who participates aligned.
Be careful of the applications that are authorized to connect to your social media
As a general rule, it's good to check social media authorizations about once a week to ensure you know at all times who has access to the company passwords. In this effort, monitor which applications are allowed to interconnect with your social media platforms such as LinkedIn and Twitter. And in general, the fewer the better. There is a high embarrassment risk in having a corporate social media account hacked.
Consider a separate company social media device
Particularly as employees work to keep their personal and company social media personas separate, it may be worthwhile to invest in a separate device to house your corporate social accounts. While tools like TweetDeck and Hootsuite are a handy way to manage multiple accounts and personas with ease, they make it far too easy to accidentally post the wrong message to the wrong account. Additionally, having a separate device for company social media can reduce the risk of rogue postings. For example, when a Utah organization laid off 100 employees, the company had lost track of the fact that one of the employees affected was the individual who was running the company's Twitter account from his personal device. His parting shot was a tweet that said, "Want a great company, cheap? We're available for $150,000, and we'll throw in the foosball table for free." Within hours, the story had made Gigaom.
Don't be afraid to seek help
Employee advocacy is a new arena, and even the companies who are currently succeeding acknowledge that the endeavor is a journey -- not a destination -- and they continue to seek guidance from others to fine tune their strategies and tactics day to day. This is an area where it makes sense to get a periodic social media and social business audit from the experts and to take every opportunity to be perpetually improving your game.
As you increasingly empower your employees to become advocates, what are the greatest lessons you've learned? I look forward to hearing your additional input in the comment section below.
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