Last week’s article (#whatsitallabout?) by Mel Haas and Sarah Pfaff looked at the topic of social media policy from a legal perspective. Citing increased attention from the NLRB, the astute lawyers advise that companies should formulate a social media policy and that it’s a good idea to run it by an experienced labor lawyer for review. Sound advice. This week’s post draws the same conclusion, but from a different set of inputs. Today we’ll look at the question of when and why it makes sense to encourage employee use of social media and what broad guidelines might be considered for a social media policy that both prescribes and proscribes.
Your Business is on the Networks
The fact is that a significant portion of your employee group is engaged on one or several social media platforms. Yes, they’re also very likely to communicate via one of these networks at work. Arguments against distraction and wasted time aside, efforts to block or prohibit social media in the workplace won’t work. We live in a connected society and nothing short of taking up smart phones as the team enters the office will prevent employees from checking Facebook, Pinterest, or their platform of preference.
Equally evident is that your employees will tweet and post about your business. As a society, we spend most of our waking hours at work. It’s what we do and it’s inevitable that we’ll talk about it. What might they be saying? Let’s break this down into a few possible categories:
- Benign – everyday chitchat that may mention your business but has no impact whatsoever.
- Protected Activity – this was the attorney’s topic last week and has been the area of NLRB focus.
- Potentially Damaging – ranging from casual deprecatory remarks to sharing of confidential information that could actually damage your company’s business or reputation.
- Potentially Positive – the good things that your employees say about the company.
Without any supporting data whatsoever, it’s still a pretty good assumption that the majority of these conversations fall into the first category. They’re benign. “I’m at work,” Sally tweets,”going to the grocery on the way home.” Smaller percentages can probably be allocated to negative remarks, whether protected or unprotected by the National Labor Relations Act. The rest of the conversations are good stuff, positive remarks about your business or organization that can potentially create goodwill.
The Opportunity: Internal Brand Ambassadors
Why not harness this positive energy and use it to create positive engagement for your brand? Marketers spend significant time and money on efforts to recruit brand ambassadors, essentially fans of the company and it’s products in the marketplace. Company employees are a natural pool of fans, and who knows more about what’s really good within the organization? With some planning, training, and encouragement, it’s possible to create a team of internal brand ambassadors who can amplify a positive brand message using social media.
This idea won’t be a hit with the entire workforce. You’ll have employees that are averse to the idea of social media and others who just aren’t interested, but you’ll probably also find a core group of employees that might be very interested in “spreading good news.” To make the effort work requires some planning. Here are the basics:
- Set goals – for instance, how many employees will be involved? What do we want to accomplish?
- Create a social media team – not just marketing folks, but including others within the organization.
- Develop a strategy – What messages? What channels? How will we create and distribute a consistent stream of information?
- Training – It’s possible that some who would like to be involved will need specific training on the social network channels themselves, but it’s very important that everyone involved is on the same page regarding message, and when and how to add personal comments.
- Focused content and a method for internal distribution – To maximize the effectiveness of your company’s team of ambassadors, it’s necessary to coordinate the message content. Depending on the size of the organization, content can be distributed by email or with a social media content distribution system (Expion, as an example).
- Analytics – It’s important to measure effectiveness and to adapt and refine the program to make continual improvement.
Back to Social Media Policy
The best social media policies don’t just proscribe negative behaviors, they also prescribe positive engagement via social channels, and they are worded to encourage employees to use common sense and keep the message straightforward and truthful. A great example comes from Intel’s Social Media Guidelines. Here’s a short extract:
Other companies with proactive social media policies include Coca-Cola and Ford Motor Company. If you’re interested in reviewing more examples of social media policy, Chris Boudreaux has compiled an online database of policies from public and private companies, universities and non-profits. Again, it’s a very good idea to have a labor attorney review the final draft of your social media policy before distributing it to the workforce.
The potential benefits of social media engagement by employees far outweigh the risk of damage to a company from improper use of these now well-established communications channels. With planning and a focused effort, employees can become an internal team of brand ambassadors that communicate a positive message about the company and it’s products and brands. Social media policies should be proactive to encourage these kinds of messages, while also providing examples of social media engagement that is not constructive.
Richard Dannenberg is owner of DP Marketing Services and works with Georgia Employers’ Association on a range of projects. He writes regularly on marketing topics and will be posting occasionally on the GEA blog.