By adaptive - March 15th, 2012

[S]ocial media carries many associated risks. None more so than the fear of someone doing something ‘wrong’ - and with 73% of companies with more than three people active on social media, corpo...

Social media carries many associated risks. None more so than the fear of someone doing something ‘wrong’ - and with 73% of companies with more than three people active on social media, corporations must make sure that responsibilities are clear.

Unfortunately the nature of the beast means that one small mistake can escalate quickly, and before you know it you are fighting fire with fire. From Mattel’s deleting of Facebook posts to Habitats loose hashtag – examples of it going wrong are all too easy to find.

Social media is a powerful force that an organisation can harness to inspire brand loyalty, improve sales, create awareness and so much more. If an organisation wants to succeed in this arena it needs a solid internal governance policy that sets the rules of engagement and offers the social media team training, integration, strategy and understanding.

According to Bain customers who engage with companies over social media spend 20 to 40% more money with those companies than other customers and demonstrate a deeper emotional commitment. Leaders within the social media realm have shown marked results using flexible strategies and tight internal governance systems.

A company needs an internal governance policy from the moment the first sentence is tapped out using the company’s identity.

Reputations swing on a keystroke and, with that kind of power, there is a need for structure. It is essential that those employees who work with social media understand what the medium demands, how quickly it works, and how to avoid common pitfalls.

Jonny Rosemont, head of social media at DBD Media, explains, “For any corporate governance policy relating to social media there are two fundamentals: providing guidance to all employees around their behaviours in social media, and providing governance for individuals who represent the company on social media.”

Employees may not be aware that their activities could have an impact on the business so it is important to explain why the company is engaging in social media and what the objectives are. The policy also needs to define who is responsible for updating and managing the company’s social networking profiles and what is required of them.

David Turner, Group Marketing Director, UNIT4 “Our Social Media Policy outlines the rules which detail what staff can and cannot do,” says David Turner, Group Marketing Director, UNIT4, “It clarifies legal issues such as ownership of contacts developed whilst working on behalf of the company, and makes sure that everyone is clear about what is expected of them.”

The news is littered with simple social media errors that could have been easily avoided with astute understanding of social media mores. From Dell’s slow response to the exploding laptop images to a Red Cross employee accidentally sending a personal tweet from the corporate account – these situations could have had very different results with an appropriate strategy.

“I once picked up a tweet from a prospect in California who had been told, incorrectly, that our product didn’t support a particular function,” says Turner, “I contacted a product expert, confirmed the function was supported and contacted the prospect. Within an hour we had turned the deal around.”

The lack of an effective internal governance model for social media will not just affect the quality of communications externally, but result in internal issues as well. A clear strategy that defines roles and policies will ensure that customer communications are clear and consistent, reduce interdepartmental conflicts, deliver scalable solutions that can adapt to change, and be more cost effective.

Communications should be tied into strategic business segments and integrated across the organisation so each unit communicates within the same guidelines as the others and crossover is either eliminated or reduced.

An understanding of social media is vital. There is little use in having a solid strategy without firm grasp on the vagaries of the market. Answer the questions that ask who your customers are? What language they use? How they interact with one another? What content they value. What their expectations are? And what are your rules of engagement?

Understanding the rules

And what are these rules? The clue is in the question. Engagement.

A successful relationship with customers is a responsive one. Ignoring complaints or leaving too long before replying will not do a company any favours. “It is about being helpful, responsive, credible and about providing great customer service,” says Rosemont, “Think about it as a ‘shop floor’ mentality.”

“We address all negative comments about our products,” adds Turner, “And this often results in them responding with highly positive comments about the support and responsiveness of the organisation.”

So what of those who handle the pressure of social media, are they to be empowered to tackle the tasks or constantly monitored? Perhaps one way of looking at this is to suggest that it is about leadership. A social media strategy is not built overnight and, by empowering the social media team to prove the worth of this medium, a company is potentially creating an online environment, which can benefit the entire organisation.

“The long term vision for a company must be for social media to be an integral way to how it does business,” says Rosemont, “With social media and business usage of it being so new, there is an educational process to go through before you can fully open up and describe yourselves as a social business.”

“At UNIT4 we give our employees clear rules, guidelines, training and support, empowering them to engage freely using social media,” says Turner, “The beauty of it is that all engagement is open so we can monitor the situation to see if anything is going wrong, and step in to help if necessary.”

The same understanding used to grasp the inner workings of social media can be applied to working within the highly regulated strictures of the environment itself. Businesses are held under very tight guidelines externally. Their internal governance must reflect this and adapt to it in such a way as to thrive within it.  While it can pose a challenge to those in more tightly controlled industries, it should not impact on the ability to respond to customers and to use social media to gain a deeper understanding of the target market.

An internal governance policy is therefore built on the principles of understanding, engagement, training, strategy and integration. It must outline the organisation’s goals, response procedures, tone of voice, and provide clear guidelines for employees actively engaged in social media management as well as ensuring that it keeps to the letter of the law.

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