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Many brands are nervous about letting people engage on their behalf in social media; and their nervousness is often well-founded.

They think of cases such as the Nestle Facebook page, where the person managing the page on behalf of the brand lost control of the situation; generally they fear that people will say the wrong thing, to the wrong people at the wrong time.

This leads to policies that are about controlling and restricting use of social media, whereas the ideal would be the exact opposite.

The truth is that many brands have traditionally made it difficult for their staff to engage in social media; they block access to social sites on the work network and they have policies that are about what employees shouldn’t do and how they shouldn’t behave.

This has often grown out of a very traditional understanding of social media as something that distracts people from work. Most brands no longer believe this, but these restrictions are still in place.

For most brands, social media is seen as a channel (just as press is a traditional communications channel), and so only specific people are allowed to engage.

Just as you have a specific people who are allowed to talk on behalf of your brand to the press, so you have a small set of people who are allowed to engage in social media. The restrictions and policies remain in place, but a small number of people are exceptions to this.

For brands with a more developed understanding of the value of social media, it has stopped being just another channel in this way and started being something that is changing the way parts of the business function ('social business').

For these brands, restricting access to social media to just a limited number of employees is counter-intuitive. They need people to be using social media not as a separate channel but just as part of their job.

For these brands this raises the question of whether all employees should be engaging on Twitter or Facebook, forums or blogs.

There are some notable examples (such as Zappos or Best Buy) where large proportions of an employee group are encouraged to Tweet or engage on social media, and there are strong reasons for a social business to encourage this:

  1. Encouraging all your staff to be using social media can help deal with a large volume of engagements in social media. 

    If every single employee had an hour or two each week to engage with customers, you could very quickly deal with a large volume of issues without any one individual employee feeling that they are adding a lot to their workload.

  2. Getting staff from departments other than the communications team (where traditionally this channel might be run) allows customers to talk directly to people who know best how to use a product.
  3. Allowing staff to build their own communities of people they engage with provides them with an ability to learn from, share and test ideas with people who are working on similar issues, in similar areas or use similar tools.
  4. Finally, and perhaps most transformational, there is nothing more powerful that letting the people who work for a brand to have a direct channel with the people who pay money to buy that brand.

And this would seem to argue that getting your staff to tweet, use Facebook, and engage in forums or on blogs makes sense. And perhaps it does. Sometimes. But actually what this means is not that they should necessarily be engaging for you in social media, but that they should be finding the right way to use social media as part of their job. And this does not necessarily mean engaging.

The true social business encourages all employees to be using social media. For many this may mean interacting directly with customers online, however for some this will mean monitoring discussions on topics or brands of interest, or engaging in niche communities of likeminded individuals, or just engaging and interacting so that they understand how social media works.

Some of the best examples I’ve seen include plasma screens next to a CEO’s desk that show the latest discussions of a brand online, or sales people who join groups and discussions about them and their competitors so that they can learn what people say about each, or programmes to get large proportions of staff across the business answering questions online that are in their area of expertise.

A true social business is about finding how and where social media should best be used by each and every employee.

But one thing is clear, we need to stop having policies that restrict use of social media, and start having policies that encourage it.

Matt Rhodes

Published 13 June, 2011 by Matt Rhodes

Matt Rhodes is Client Services Director at FreshNetworks and contributor to Econsultancy. 

9 more posts from this author

Comments (12)

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Jon Reid

I think policies on using social media are the way to go. It is a powerful medium for good or ill.

Most important point, in my opinion, is try and stop me.

You can restrict access on my work computer but I still have my phone. Or, I can wait until I get home. Outside of confidentiality issues, I can and will say what I want.


over 5 years ago


Dashboard Pro

I think it depends. I agree that you can't really stop it in the workplace but there is a time and place for it and in an office is not that time. Then again we do use social media in our office to comunicate and stay on top of the changing times online to get our product out there.

over 5 years ago


The Digital Consultant

I agreed that companies must address their presence on social media networks. People have come to expect brands to have some form of profile. There are some things that must be considered though as an open policy to allow employees to have free reign over their employers social media may be a disaster waiting to happen.

We always say that the internal structure of a company needs to be rock solid if they are to allow their employees to have control. Whilst there are many start ups and new companies that have built themselves on a social media foundation there are many older companies who's heritage is so stuck in the dark ages that opening up their social media networks to staff may back fire. We've seen enough new stories of company's staff being sacked because they've been slagging off their customers.

We encourage our clients to try and get their staff involved as much as possible but having a good social media policy is key.

It's also about getting the right people involved as you say. Often the types of feedback will include complains, customer service and sales enquiries. Making sure that the people who are responding are well connected to the right departments on that those departments are taking part is always a good start!

over 5 years ago


Jon Reid

You may be right in that there is no place in the traditional office for SocM. It is simply impossible to keep people away from it 100% so why not try to make it useful.

I have installed internal twitter like channels in several companies so everyone can keep up to date on each others actions more easily. From code check-ins to coffee requests.

Yammer is an easy one to use but Liferay has social addons that are pretty cool as well. Just much more work to get going.

over 5 years ago

Sean Clark

Sean Clark, Head of Web Operations at Adnams Plc

Employ the right people. Treat them with respect. Let them be your advocates.

At Adnams, we have over 23 staff using Twitter & Facebook and we actively encourage it.

Do we have mishaps? Of course, but we monitor and mentor to ensure we are all using the tools to the best of our ability and to the benefit of the business, staff and customers.

over 5 years ago


SEO Experts

Definitely! Especially senior staff - they should all have a definite presence and lead their teams rather than have their teams lead them.

Where will consumers go - where they're most heard. If you can buy from tina @ support or have the choice to influence the VP of product development, where would you knock first?

over 5 years ago

David Hall

David Hall, Digital Marketing Manager at Schroders

Nice post. Coincidently I'm in the process of creating some guidlines to help engage our sales teams in social media. More encouragement than discouragement is my view. Clients/customers are going to talk about your brand online whether or not you chose to get involved. You can either sit on the sidelines or get stuck in!

We're a b2b company, so the challenges are slightly different and the audience more niche, but the rewards - potentially great!

over 5 years ago


michelle carvill

Well done David - you clearly 'get it'.I read the title of this post and thought - of course, provided your team understand your marketing strategy and are using these important marketing channels to achieve marketing objectives. The social platforms are key marketing channels - they're powerful because of reach and immediacy - but the same level of engagement should be given to these channels as to your other marketing channels - both on and off line. As long as there is strategic direction and everyone understands the objectives and tactics to employ - then great.

over 5 years ago

Deborah Lewis

Deborah Lewis, Managing Partner at The Hero Machine

I totally agree with this article. The traditional "one to many" approach which corporates adopted via mass media was fine - but social media is very granular and requires a "many to many" communications approach.

I think it takes more than policies to make this work though.

First employees have to "get" what the business is really about and be able to express it in ways which are consistent but work for them (because how I talk to my friends is different to how you talk to your friends).

This means the company story has to be INCREDIBLY straightforward and compelling - and true. It's about how the business really behaves and why it bothers to exist.

Then you've got to trust people to be spontaneous and add their own magic. Remember the punk images of Kate and Will against a rough image of the Union Jack? Not an official image but a very powerful one which could never have been released by the Royal Family but struck a chord with the British nation - and beyond.

I think there a lot of businesses who still have a very "autocratic" approach to communications (more propaganda than dialogue) who need to take a deep breath and start their social media experiments with people they are the most comfortable being social with. This could mean the PR team interacting with journalists, or the sales team with customers. Or even the MD/CEO with employees.

Unless the company culture is ready to engage socially across the board it's best to limit those occasions.

Can you imagine Mr Darcy using Twitter? Or Stalin????

over 5 years ago

Chris Matenaers

Chris Matenaers, Head of Digital Marketing & BI Systems at brightsolid Online Publishing

It is welcome news that facebook is slowing down and indeed usage is in decline. As an advertising platform, it never performed for me and always seemed like a waste of time and effort.

What also annoys the seasoned makreteer is the constant bombardment of claims that facebook is the next greatest thing. Indeed it was this week that I read a claim by some digital agency director that one day facebook could be the internet.

Thank god anyone believing this deserves to be cannoned by his or her employer.
Even here on eConsultancy have digital marketing companies been allowed to sell the most inadequate of claims to unsuspecting buyers.
Facebook is not an acquisition channel!

As for the private investors, I believe they will get the big money when facebook floats, but take a good hard look at facebook and decide if you want to put your money in the concept of people "liking" things, by clicking a small button. If that's your idea of sound investment...

over 5 years ago


Luke Brynley-Jones

I'm a big fan of the wider adoption of social media - but I'd echo Sean's comment above about employing the right people. Many staff members aren't good communicators (just read their emails). If you want to adopt a holistic approach to social media, you need to start recruiting good communicators, not just in marketing/comms, but across the board.

over 5 years ago


Carmen Migueles

There are deeper question that needs to be posed before deciding for allowing or not your employees to talk in the name of the company on social media: what is the quality of the bound employees have with the company? What are the consequences for unloyal behavior or pure cowardice practiced with losses for all other stakeholders, or, on the other way, what are the incentives to take side with the corporation? How are we going to avoid crisis generated by hurt employees who, after leaving the company, use previous connections to generate a crisis? How can we protect the interests of stockholders and brand image?
If after answering those questions we can be confident that the gains are larger than losses, we can benefit from it.

over 5 years ago

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