What goes on social, stays on social. A rather more modern play on a tongue-in-cheek saying. And, you could say that this time it’s serious. The worldwide web is vast; security and reputational risks (both organisational and individual) lurk around every corner. As businesses, we want to encourage our people to advocate our brand but what happens when they share too much?
Whenever you hear about ‘social media risks’, one of the first things to be mentioned is reputation management. Damage to the brand or the corporate culture, or both, is a justifiable concern but, as brands, are we also considering our people? By asking employees to be advocates, we are asking them to put themselves out there, head firmly above the parapet, and engage with an unknown audience. We’re making some pretty big assumptions about common sense, etiquette and business acumen in doing so.
That is, unless you put some safety nets in place. There are obvious boundaries that can be used, such as implementing and training people on social media policies and best practice. We can also ensure that we pair our advocacy effort with social listening; keeping an ‘ear’ on what the community and audience are saying. Feedback from this activity can be invaluable in assessing how the brand, and the individuals posting, are perceived.
Often, when social media is used in a business context, there can be blurred lines between individuals and the brand. Employees will be using their own profiles to share advocacy content but, on a management level, for example, organisations might give responsibility for an advocacy programme to a digital native on account of their proficiency with the platform. However, this approach doesn’t cater for business acumen – or lack of – and can therefore leave the brand exposed to potential commercial and reputational risks.
On the other hand, the social media policy and training programmes might serve to protect the brand, but do they cover our people? Internet trolling is a very real threat for employees acting on behalf of brands and this experience can be distressing and damaging for individuals.
The solution to this kind of problem is twofold. Organisations need to design their policies and boundaries with both the individual and the brand in mind. Additionally, any training that supports official social media use should include scenario-based learning focused on how to deal with confrontation or trolling.
We need to protect our employees as much as we need to protect our brand. Additionally, social media accounts and channels need to be owned within the corporation. There are many stories of individuals leaving a business having set the brand accounts up, and taking the passwords and the followers with them.
Trust is a major factor in creating a successfully social business. Organisations need to be responsible for their peoples’ wellbeing in terms of giving them the skills they need to deal with every type of interaction. They also need to take responsibility for creating content that is safe to share. (And, by safe, we mean brand-friendly, non-controversial and which doesn’t cause commercial risks like competitive exposure.)
Generally your people will want to do the best for their brand. They want to be seen as an expert in their field and improve their own professional brand as a result. But, to achieve these benefits, they must be set up to succeed and not to fail.
At Tribal we talk about putting your employees in front of your brand. And we mean this in every way. Let them be your advocates; empower them with increasing the brand profile as well as their own. But protect them too. Individuals are as important as the brand, if not more so.
Be mindful of this when deciding what boundaries to set and what training and feedback loops to make available. Getting it wrong could mean you’re funding ineffective use of social media, or picking up the pieces of damaged self-esteem. Both of these will be costly, financially and emotionally but both are easily mitigated with some thorough planning at the start of your culture change.