Empower, don’t control: employee use of social media

Just when we thought we had reputation management figured out, here comes a new twist. We’ve spent years crafting and approving talking points for activism, have the template news releases ready in case of corporate scandal; have a prepared distribution list of journalists in case stock prices drop… we’ve got it covered and we can rest peacefully in our beds at night.

That’s the way it was. Along comes social media and all those peaceful easy feelings have gone away. In their place, panic because the threats that used to be outside our organizations are now right in our own buildings, eating lunch alongside us in our carefully guarded corporate cafeterias. These new threats? Our employees!!

That’s because they’re using Facebook, Twitter, FlickR, LinkedIn and starting their own blogs. Sometimes they do it a home, sometimes at work. Sometimes for personal reasons, sometimes professionally. Often, they talk about where they work and what they do. That’s the threat. Because one day, inadvertently, they could say something they shouldn’t online – about a co-worker, an executive, a company product, a research project, a competitor – and you’ll all be in trouble. That’s the risk management threat. The threat to your brand is also important – and that is, with so many people giving your brand an online presence, chances are, it’s not a consistent set of messages nor image and that makes your brand muddy. And remember… a muddy brand is no brand at all.

Also, it appears that social media use, even for approved business purposes, goes on in many different departments by many different people who might or might not talk to each other, coordinate with communication teams or know that much about branding or communication. Recruiters reach directly to college students, marketing folks create Facebook promotions, sales teams contribute to client blogs… again, it adds up to uncoordinated efforts and a muddy brand.

With millions of people on social media properties, the exposure created by these activities is serious enough that our legal, HR, information security and IT teams are getting alarmed, and involved. Corporate communicators are taking charge of this situation as a media relations, reputation management and customer relations task area. But you still want to empower, not control, employees’ use of social media. In spirit of the internet, speech is free, and individual expression encouraged. Studies show that the world’s best-known brands also have the largest numbers of employees using social media. https://www.netprospex.com/np/system/files/NetProspex_SocialBusinessReport_Summer2011.pdf

In my next few blogs, I’ll give you some programs and techniques I’ve found effective to address this. Welcome to my series “Engaging Employees as Brand Ambassadors via Social Media.”

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About Jaya Koilpillai Bohlmann
Global corporate communication, business, and organization behavior executive; author. My blog, DesigningCommunication, offers inspiration, insight, and tips for all professionals who want to express themselves effectively, and lead with integrity.

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