Social Media: Educate or Regulate?

What do your instincts tell you to do in the face of fear and uncertainty? Fight or flee? Fear of the much-discussed dangers of social media has pushed far too many organizations into flight mode or, in certain cases, into a state of deep denial. Some organizations that were willing to face those fears and take action have opted to regulate social media usage in order to minimize the risk of damage.  On the surface, this can seem like a prudent course of action.  However, an unfortunate effect of extreme caution can be strangling precisely those elements of social media that provide the biggest rewards.

An example of extreme regulation is demanding that any online posting about an organization or by its employees first receive the blessing of that company’s marketing department. Except in the most skillful hands, a rule like this has the effect of making every communication official and bland.  While this approach may be fine for announcements, it just doesn’t work as well in conversations.  And conversations are the currency online.

Into this dilemma come the helpful folks at Common Craft who have just issued a new video entitled Social Media and the Workplace.  In this video they explain some of the benefits of social media and suggest the following approach for organizations that want to move past paralyzing fear to take advantage of social media:

  • Realize that “customers want more than just another press release.”  Instead, they want to have “an honest conversation with someone from the company, often outside the company website.”
  • Encourage employees to understand and participate in online conversations about your company and its products.
  • To maximize the benefits (and minimize the risks) of these conversations, companies should:
    • create official company accounts on popular social media sites
    • set up alerts to monitor what is being said about your company and its products on these social media platforms
    • consider appointing certain employees to monitor and respond to online conversations as part of their regular responsibilities
    • establish clear guidance to help all employees become effective online representatives of your company
  • The Common Craft video suggests that before anyone in the company responds to an online conversation, they use the following checklist:
    • does this issue really require a response?
    • is a particular employee the right person to respond? Does he know the facts? Can he add value?
    • does the responder understand the culture of the particular social media platform hosting the conversation of concern?
    • each responder should identify herself as a company representative, but speak in the first person
    • focus on the facts, not the personalities of the people involved in the conversation
    • be “personable, respectful, and never angry.”
    • before posting anything, the responder should review it to ensure that it follows company guidelines and does not disclose any confidential information

The key to all of this is to educate.  Each organization needs to educate itself about the benefits and risks relating to social media.  Next, each organization needs to educate its employees so that they can help maximize those benefits and minimize the risks.  Given the pervasiveness of social media, it’s foolhardy to believe that you can centrally control every online conversation from your marketing department.  Given the popularity of social media, it’s lunacy to believe that you can stop employees from participating.  In the face of these realities, do you really believe you can regulate this to protect your organization from every danger?  Regulation alone will not protect you completely.  You need to educate.

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