Debunking the Top Three Social Media Myths for Business

As social media has evolved, so have the myths. Here are the top three fallacies that are widely prevalent in the corporate circles and if left unchallenged, these can do serious damage to your business and brand.

Every Company Should have a Blog

I’ve heard so many “experts” claim that every business needs a blog, so here’s a reality check for all blog advocates – corporate spin by any other name and in any format is still…corporate spin. Unless, the medium is used for what it’s intended, i.e. genuine dialogue/conversation with the readers, a blog is no more effective than a static web page. There are plenty of examples of really bad corporate blogs out there, which should be pulled down because the content is outdated and/or in many cases, it’s just a rehash of the company press releases.

Companies and “experts’ who are fixated on blogs are missing the point. At end of the day, this isn’t (and shouldn’t be) about bragging rights because your company has hundreds of blogs but rather focused on what really matters - meeting and even exceeding your customer needs.

It’s a fallacy that every company needs a blog, because what a company really needs is a medium to engage with and deliver value to its customer, regardless of format. It’s perfectly acceptable for companies to leverage forums, external social networks like Linkedin and Twitter to engage with their customer base rather than force them to read a badly written corporate blog post.

Listening is Critical in Social Media

I’ve said it before and here it is again, “listening” was not invented by social media experts and companies should be open to all feedback regardless of whether it originated in traditional media or social media. Customer feedback is critical to any company’s continued success and just because a customer emailed the feedback instead of tweeting it, shouldn’t make the feedback any less (or more) valuable. 

Smart companies already had programs in place, to gather and route feedback from customers, prospects, influencers and other critical stakeholders, before the advent of the social media. Granted that enabling technologies for monitoring the social media landscape may be new(er) but without an overarching framework/plan for using all that customer data, the “listening” part is quite pointless.

Anyone can “do” Social Media

Just because anyone and their granny can update their Facebook status, doesn’t mean that anyone in the company can “do” social media. Engaging on a social network in the business setting requires people skills and the ability to communicate effectively (even under pressure) on a public forum. In addition, social media roles such as blogging require content creation skill sets like solid writing and subject matter expertise, so the blogger can add value to their readers.

Social media has evolved from random tweeting and blogging to a sophisticated medium that should be taken seriously because it has serious implications for your brand. Companies should staff their teams with the right talent rather than handing off social media to the first employee who signs up, because regardless of what the “experts” say, your customers deserve better.

Let me know if there are other myths you would add to this list.

5 Signs Your Company is Not Ready for Social Media

If you’ve read my blog post on “Why Social Media Won’t Save Your Business“, it shouldn’t come as a complete surprise that I think some companies shouldn’t have a social media presence.

So here’s what triggered this blog post. Recently, I tried to contact a live human being at a well-known national grocery chain via their Twitter account. But I didn’t get very far as the Corporate Twit (no pun intended) kept referring me back to the website, which has the contact information of one person in “Public Affairs”. Apparently, there’s only one live person at that huge national chain or the only one who dares to put his name out there.

What’s even more amusing is the disclaimer on this company’s Twitter page which says,

 

So this company won’t tell you who is posting this information but whatever this unknown person is posting is not their responsibility. Anyone else see anything wrong with this? I wonder if their lawyers are patting themselves on the back for coming up with this.

It was almost a year back when Robert Scoble wrote his blog post on how one large retailer’s website doesn’t have any people on there. What Scoble said then and I agree:

“Here it is in simple terms: add people to your web sites.”

Scoble’s not talking just about pretty stock pictures. He’s talking about real people – your employees, your customers, people your business needs in order to thrive. The same logic applies to blogs and every other type of your company’s online social media presence. Even a year later, it’s clear that there are plenty of businesses who still don’t get it or just plain don’t care.

Here are 5 signs that your company is not ready for an external social media presence:  

#1 If your company policy prevents you from adding a name or picture of a live human being on your corporate social media account (whether it’s on Facebook, Twitter or other), change that policy first and then launch your social media presence.

#2 If your company culture is all about one-way propaganda rather than two-way communication, train your employees in ”social” skills before letting them loose on the social media sites.  

#3 If you’re only using social media for pitching products and/or shameless self-promotion, then you need to STOP. You’re no better than the spammers abusing the email system. Use social media for good – engage don’t annoy your customers.  

#4 If your customers didn’t like your cold and impersonal website and if try to replicate that same uninspiring experience on an external social media site, you will fail. We get that you’re a big company but don’t overdo the branding.

#5 If you don’t have a plan for managing and engaging your customers, STOP and create one before you go crazy on the social media sites.Your external social media presence should be treated as an extension of your existing community/customer programs and not as someone’s pet project.

Use of  social media by itself is not good enough any more. The only choice you have is to do it right or don’t do it. Doing it just because some “expert” says so, is far worse than waiting until you’re truly ready and can handle social media.

As far as my saga with the grocery chain goes, it had a positive outcome. I got a tweet from someone offering to introduce me to an executive he knows at that company. So we have proof that social media works but many companies still need to learn how to make it work for them and their customers.

6 Simple Steps to Your Company's First Social Media Policy

kittypornIn my previous post, I gave three reasons “Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy”. It’s reckless for companies engaging in the social media space not to provide their employees with some basic rules of engagement especially, as these employees blog, tweet, and engage on social sites as a representative of the company.

The purpose of the social media policy is to clearly define acceptable and unacceptable social media behavior for employees active in this space. Anyone can put together a bad policy and many policies are long and tedious, which is also why they are generally dreaded and loathed. Here are 6 simple steps to a social media policy that’s easy to create, understand, and implement.

#1 Don’t reinvent the wheel. The objective of this project is not to recreate the constitution and you don’t need a bunch of lawyers for this, either. Most companies  already  have  policies that cover confidentiality and ethics, start with those first. Leverage the existing policies and expand the scope as needed to cover social media activities. One practical approach that works well and avoids creation of multiple documents is to add a special section on social media to the overall corporate policy document.

#2 Don’t confuse policy with guidelines:  Many policy documents are excruciatingly long and irrelevant, because they end up being a mishmash of policies, guidelines, and anything else that is deemed to be remotely relevant. Don’t let your policy become a dumping ground. Keep it brief, precise and separate from your guidelines. It’s essential to  remember that policy and guidelines are not the same and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Here’s an example of a policy – “Do not post confidential information on an external social media site or blog”, while a guideline is much more general  in nature – “Be authentic in your blog posts”.  Guidelines are best practices ie. ”nice-to-have” but policy violations can have serious negative consequences for your business, so it’s important not to confuse the two.

#3 K.I.S.S.:  Don’t overdo it and don’t overwhelm your employees with a 100page policy. Keep it short and simple. The employee shouldn’t have to go through 20pages just to figure out whether or not to post something on a blog. Frontload the document with specific yet brief policy items and provide detailed examples and glossary of terms at the end.

#4 Complete the package: Once your policy is ready, add your guidelines section that outlines best practices and finish up with a process guide. The process guide should include information on processes in place to help your social media initiatives such as getting approvals for use of company logo or setting up an external blog. Voila! Now you have a solid social media engagement guide to help ensure that your employees are engaging responsibly and not out there creating a social media nightmare.  

#5 Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!: The problem with most company policies is that either employees don’t know about them or they don’t care. Make sure you make your social media policy visible and available. Communicate it through every internal channel available. Build it into your s0cial media planning process so that folks are required to review it before engaging in any type of social media activity.

#6 Last but not the least, keep it current: The social media space is evolving at a rapid pace, don’t let your policy get outdated and irrelevant. Make regular updates part of your social media policy creation process. Set time aside to review your policy on a regular basis so the policy is still relevant in the changing landscape.

If you don’t tell your employees what’s appropriate, you can’t and shouldn’t hold them responsible when things go wrong. These steps will help your employees and your company in engaging responsibly in the social media world, by creating a social media policy that’s easy to understand and follow.

Credits: Thanks to Jeff Bucchino, “The Wizard of Draws” for the Kitty photo http://www.cartoonclipart.com

Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy

In this social media age, where everything is public and privacy is mostly an illusion, it’s easy to get the lines blurred between what’s personal and what’s business. Many social media champions forget to remind their clients that social media is not without its pitfalls and companies have a responsibility to help their employees understand the rules of engagement in this highly open social media world. 

If your company or business doesn’t  already have clearly defined social media policy and related guidelines, here are 3 reasons why it should be a priority for every company:

Do your employees understand the difference between engaging on a social network/site for personal vs. professional reason?
These days, it’s highly unlikely to find someone who isn’t on at least some popular social networking site like Facebook or has uploaded a video to YouTube. Given the long hours spent at work and the growing influence of social media on our lives, the lines between professional and personal life are blurring. If your employees use their personal account to pitch your products and your customers believe that they are representing your company, your company may very well be liable for their actions even if you didn’t authorize them. If you don’t want the next headline on Techcrunch or NY Times quoting your employee ,who was discussing the weaknesses of your product with friends on a seemingly private venue like Facebook , you need to clearly define acceptable online social behavior.  Even if you think it’s highly unlikely to happen, are you willing to take a chance and risk having to debate it in court some day?

Do your employees blog or engage on social media sites on behalf of your company?
For legal and practical reasons, you need to have the rules of engagement spelled out for your employees. If you don’t have some clearly defined guidelines and policies for engaging with your customers, you can’t blame your employees for posting inappropriate information on your company website or on behalf of your company. They might be including links to their personal website or or talking about products that aren’t even launched yet because they don’t know any better. It’s amazing how even rational people get carried away because the medium is so new and engaging that it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Do your employees understand the legal and other implications of posting content on a social media site or public blog?
Even folks who are engage in social media on a regular basis don’t understand the implications of sharing information on a social media site. It’s essential to note that on social media sites, that nothing is private and nothing is sacred. Anything your employees say could be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and used against your company and the employees themselves. Recently, courts in New Zealand and Australia ruled that court papers could be served via the popular social networking site, Facebook. Peter Shankman has a detailed account on his blog, how a seemingly social media-savvy PR person got into trouble with his client when he posted some not-so-flattering comments about his client’s location on Twitter.

I can understand why businesses don’t want to stifle the spirit of their social media enthusiastic employees however, as much as these policies and guidelines protect the company, they also help the employees avoid embarassing themselves. Many social media gaffes are not because of malicious intent but rather due to lack of awareness and understanding of what’s acceptable in rapidly evolving online social space.

Does having a policy or guidelines mean your employees won’t ever post something they’re not supposed to?  Of course not, there are no guarantees in life and certainly not in business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try to mitigate potential liability. Just your company wouldn’t let a new employees run the business without some basic guidance, its unacceptable not to extend the same courtesy to employees who are representing your company and navigating the social media space on behalf of their employer.