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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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.