Let me clarify that the post title is a rhetorical question, not a blogging device to draw more readers into the post. But, hey, if it worked at drawing your attention, that’s great too. I wanted to spend a few minutes pondering the need for companies to invest some time in defining and educating their employees on social media guidelines.
What started with free form blogging in 1999, has now grown into a social media ocean of unmanageable proportions. Twitter being the latest in a slew of tools aimed at letting users share their most intimate thoughts to a broader public audience. So, it is but ironical that one of Twitter’s lead evangelist / engineers quit blogging due to a fiasco ignited by one of his tweets. Here’s the rundown:
Alex Payne, a Twitter engineer, is shutting down his personal blog after a comment he posted on Twitter became the subject of a TechCrunch blog post and caused a minor firestorm among Twitter application developers and others involved with the company. (Source: GigaOm)
From a companies’ perspective, this is a huge LOST opportunity to get the rock stars within your company build a brand for themselves and in the process, strengthen your company’s brand in the eyes of users, potential recruits and even your competitors. But, social media (as Alex Payne and Twitter now realize) is a two-edged sword that’s capable of causing as much brand hurt as brand love and one lil’ chirp can derail a fast moving express.
So, what do companies need to do proactively to avoid such situations?
The quick answer to this: a social media policy.
Develop social media guidelines with the participation of the internal evangelist from within your organization and share that with the rest of the company. Can that ensure that these mistakes won’t happen. Nope. But, education never came easy. It’s a constant process of educating your employees, revising the doc with examples of your rock stars. At LinkedIn, we’re lucky to have folks like Adam Nash and Steve Ganz who are great examples of my colleagues who get social media and use it responsibly.
But, don’t forget. To err is human. All of us make mistakes, but shutting us down sends a wrong signal to the rest of the company on what could be a great example of applying social media in the corporate setting. Remember: with lemons come lemonade. Interestingly, a few months back I’d authored a piece on what are the five questions companies need to ask themselves before delving into a social media policy and #2 on that list was finding the social media evangelists from within your company:
Are your employees already out there on the social web engaging with your customers? The answer to that question these days is mostly a resounding “Yes”, with chances that your employees are reaching out to your users through a slew of social media sites. Pick the most obvious avenues for such conversations and identify those employees who are engaging with your customers. An easy way to do that would be through a simple Google blog search, LinkedIn Groups search, LinkedIn Answers and / or Twitter search for your company brand.
These searches will also show you what are some of the gold standard examples of user engagement practiced by your employees and some opportunities for improvement. Factor this in when you put together your set of social media guidelines. Better yet, bring in your most active social media employees to collaborate and help craft your social media guidelines. If you need to get internal approval, these employees could be your strongest internal evangelists.
For those of you who are looking for good, simple examples of social media guidelines. Here are a few tips that could get you started:
- Five questions to ask yourself before developing a social media policy / LinkedIn Talent blog
- Should your company have a social media policy? / Mashable
- Coca-Cola’s shrewd new social media policy / Pamorama
- Military announces social media policy / New York Times
- 29% of companies have a social media policy / Marketing Pilgrim
- [Update] Social Media Policy Creator / hat tip to @shama
Remember: social media policy shouldn’t be stodgy legalese that you’d rather not be caught dead reading, but a practical commonsensical approach to creating true employee evangelists for your brand.
And, here’s hoping Alex will start blogging again! Soon. Best.