Business leaders recognize that customers and potential customers expect real-time interaction with and quick reaction time from their businesses. Many also recognize that social media tools can enhance interactions with this external audience and are useful for monitoring the business brand online.
Most good leaders also recognize that employees interact and influence customers in many ways, and recognize the value of an engaged workforce to positive customer interactions.
Yet many businesses still ban or try to centralize control of social media use in the workplace, stifling the potential of an engaged workforce.
Three social media strategies
Social media policy seems to fall into one of three categories:
1. Shut it all down, block it!: Sometimes this policy stems from external requirements, as can happen in government workplaces.
But often this approach stems from a fear that employees will be wasting time on social media sites or will use such sites to share proprietary information or to make disparaging comments about the company. Or it may stem from an inability or unwillingness to provide education and to promote effective use of these powerful tools.
Whatever the reason, this approach can signal a complete lack of trust in the workforce, or naivety about the access employees already have. Neither of these is conducive to an engaged workforce!
2. Limit access with lots of rules: This approach attempts to capture every possible appropriate and inappropriate use of social media tools into a mind-numbing rule book, in an apparent effort to leave little to chance.
Or, as a modification on the previous approach, the use of social media tools is restricted to one or a few people, possibly in public relations or marketing or human resources, whose job is deemed to include interacting with the public.
Such an approach fails to recognize that all employees influence customer and public opinion about the business, regardless of job title. It also fails to recognize the value of an engaged workforce to positive customer interactions. To the workforce, it can feel as though they are being treated like toddlers who must be protected from themselves. Or worse, such an approach, like the first one, can indicate a lack of trust in employee judgment or an inability or unwillingness to engage in discussion and training.
3. Free access with the understanding that use is monitored: Unlike the others, this approach offers guidelines and places trust in employees to use social media responsibly and to accept consequences for failing to do so.
It recognizes the influence that every employee brings to bear with customers and the public, and chooses to expect the best but certainly can come with the proviso “as a leadership team if we feel that a one-on-one conversation is required to clarify our standards we will follow-up with you directly“.
This approach does require the most effort to communicate with and educate managers and employees about the brand, the company, and the audience, and help them frame choices about the use of social media in that context. But the potential benefits to the business are great as well.
Rulebook versus guidelines — which social media policy would you prefer?
Think about it. Treat people like toddlers and they’ll act like toddlers. Treat them like responsible adults and that’s who you’ll be interacting with. Which would you rather have representing your company?
Instead of running from the problem and limiting employee reach on the internet, consider opening up access to all social sites and tools, so that employees can take an active role in managing the business’s online presence.
1. Know what your culture and brand are all about.
2. Be able to clearly articulate to your employees how they can help or hinder both culture and brand using social media.
3. Provide the time, the training, the support, and the guidance to coach managers and employees on their options and their responsibilities.
4. Have the resources to monitor and “course correct” when needed.
5. Realize that whether you have five employees or 500, they are all representing your brand and company almost every minute of every day on and off social media.
Leverage the potential of social media and an engaged workforce!
Copyright 2011 Christine McLeod