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.