This isn’t just about the disturbing Domino’s Video

Videos from juvenile associates who can’t tell the difference between a prank on their friends vs a real world crime  are not the issue we are discussing.  This post covers the responsibilities your firm should consider for the safety and benefit of your brand and your people.  Many firms have run helter- skelter into social media with little to no forethought as to what that could  mean.  Yeah, 2.0  can be a good thing to promote the company.  Yeah, it is the USA where everyone has the right to free speech.  Yes, these are adults and you trust them to keep a business from personal separation. Right?

Seinfeld’s “Worlds Collide” theory from The Pool Guy episode  could be the unintentional consequences of having no published policy or at least a dialogue about Twitter, FaceBook, personal blogs and the like.

Let’s say Bob in sales (it’s always the sales guy right?) has a really rough appointment with a big client.  Does Bob know that after a vodka he really should resist pulling out his IPhone and updating his FaceBook about how he is at his favorite waterhole recovering from a meeting with Jane Doe of Your Best Client, Inc.?  What if Sarah from accounts receivable sees and tweets about all of the deadbeats she has to stay late to collect from?  What if Cyd the designer is so excited about a new product line that he scoops your PR team on his own personal blog?  Or, Dean’s wife keys how she is looking forward to going with him on an upcoming business trip to San Francisco, which is supposed to be a secret from your competition.

Does this happen? You bet.   I have witnessed an instance where a developer (not one of ours)  posted code online in his personal blog.  The problem,  the company had developed this code for a client.  He thought the code was “cool” and wanted to share it.  Damage done.  The firm had no 2.0 policy.

I have also seen where schools have “encouraged” their students in leadership to take unacceptable pictures and content off of their personal FaceBook and MySpace site.  Why? The name of the university was thought to be tarnished by the background of a beer sign where the group posed for pictures.

Public companies, like IBM, have a stated Social Computing Guidelines paper that encourages “responsible engagement in innovation and dialogue”.  IBM stresses honesty and integrity.  The use of an online alias or pen-name is discouraged in this policy.   “Be who you are,”  “speak in first person,” and “use a disclaimer,” separating the firm from the “IBMer” are all well thought out principles for an international public company.

Major firms like Dow Jones of course are concerned about how information is given to the public but you don’t have to be a huge company to have an errant post impact your stock, sales or brand.  True, it will be nearly impossible to control every utterance from every person in or involved with your company.  So where to start?  Begin to create a set of social marketing guidelines that assist your associates in engaging in the world, informs them of some unforeseen issues that could innocently arise  and direct them to information regarding your own code of conduct that will guide their journey through this unsettled and evolving world of citizen journalists.

Top Items for a Social Media Policy:

  • Let your people  know your level of support for 2.0.  The CEO of Zappos has his own regular Twitter login with over 700,000 followers.   What do you support and what are you concerned about?
  • Tell your team “why” this policy needs to exist.  Explain investor relations, legal issues and the business reasons behind your guidelines.
  • Give them a go-to person for any questions.  In a non-invasive and private manner, they can get their questions answered.  It’s OK if they have made an error in judgement or make a mistake.  Just don’t hide it.
  • Establish honesty and integrity up front.  If an associate has a gamer base where their Warcraft  ID is important and won’t work, then an alias might be good (even preferred).  But let the staff know that when they are  online, even at 2 AM on a Sunday, they are still a part of the firm as far as the never sleeping WWW is concerned.  Encourage them to be honest about who they are.  The separation between work and play will continue to get more blurred.  If they doubt that, show them Google Wave.
  • For the item above, publish a disclaimer that can be used by your associates and either strongly encourage its use or make it a requirement for their personal sites.  Likewise, your brand, logo and IP are off limits.  The reasons are obvious.
  • If you have specific rules regarding the safe use of handhelds or proper use of desktops, then make sure that these guidelines are understood.  If texting on a company Blackberry while driving a company car is forbidden, then so is tweeting.  Let everyone know you are serious about this for their own safety.
  • Help everyone understand that there are better and more effective ways than a public forum to complain about lousy working conditions like dirty restrooms or no vegetarian items on the cafeteria menu.  If negative postings by associates is happening or could happen, give them a release point internally and privately.
  • Have a code of ethics guideline link available for all associates to use as a sounding board for their social activities online.  You hired smart people.  Let them use their brain.
  • Lastly, have a review team look at the policy periodically to see what needs to change.  All we know is that the next social phenom is on its way.

Need advice?  Talk to your friendly neighborhood SEO firm.  With a little common sense, a spirit of cooperation and some solid groundwork policies you can develop a great mutually beneficial 2.0 approach with your people, the web and whatever the next MySpace/FaceBook/Twitter coolness turns out to be.  Do you doubt there will be one?

One Response

  1. Steffie on 13 Dec 2011

    Aprpceiation for this information is over 9000-thank you!

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