10 ways to keep employees singing from the same social media song-sheet

Social media has once again shown that it can be as good at playing bad cop as it is at playing good cop. The most recent example of a company getting on the wrong side of the social public comes from the unfortunate DSGi - the company which owns Dixons and PC World - which suffered from a good facebooking when some employees set up a group to talk about their ‘experiences’ working in the company’s stores.

A couple of the conversation threads in this facebook group had titles such as ‘really stupid customers’ which were not very complimentary to the electronics buying public. Naturally a few customers have taken exception to being called stupid, or worse, and as a consequence Dixons and PC World have suffered from some bad publicity.

Astonishingly this group has been active since 2007, supposedly without the knowledge of the management or corporate office. It is only the more recent trend for using social media as a branding and marketing tool, along with a public thirst for brand/company reviews and real-time information that has led it to be discovered.

How should DSGi deal with it externally? That’s the subject for another article - the real issue here is that many companies are still not streamlining the social media activity of their employees and incorporating their input effectively into their social strategy. Companies must begin to understand that everyone within an organisation has to sing from the same song-sheet for social media to work effectively.

Here we’ve used the social media guidelines of Sun Microsystems to summarise some helpful tips for bringing employees into the social media fold.

1. Communicate with your company

Employees can’t work with you towards a single social media strategy unless they are informed what it is. Brief all teams within your company on what tactics you are pursuing, how you are conversing with the public and your industry and what you hope to gain from it. Make it clear that discussion of the brand is prohibited unless it fits with the brand guidelines or company policy.

2. Encourage staff to become a part of the conversation

Social media strategy isn’t just talking about your company online. The key is to encourage your employees to make contributions to industry conversation and within the relevant markets for your customers. If someone is writing a blog with their name attached to your company name, for example, then ask them to make sure their entries are well-researched and well-informed.

3. Don’t tell company secrets

Most things published on the web are publicly accessible so the best policy is to avoid posting anything sensitive at all. Ensure that your employees are aware of this too so that they don’t inadvertantly post news of a new product line before it goes live!

4. No comment

Authorise certain people to respond to media enquiries and customer complaints and make sure that only these official spokespeople do so. Again, communication about your policies is key here.

5. All company policies apply

Advise employees that company policies, such as business conduct, privacy requirements, confidential information, trademark and anti-discrimination, do apply to all online activity relating to the company.

6. Live the brand

Any interaction online on behalf of the company or relating to the brand should reflect the values and personality of the brand. Show your personality, be interesting but above all be respectful and professional.

7. Stick to what you know

You can’t go far wrong if your employees stick to writing about what they know. It’s when someone has to write about an area outside their expertise that you could get into trouble.

8. Quality above quantity

To a degree, social media strategy is about quantity of communication - ie. regular posts on blogs, microblogs and social networking sites. However, if the posts are badly written or have bad spelling and grammar, your company’s image will be tarnished within the community. As well as language skills, it helps to be as concise as possible. Twitter offers the perfect forum to practice!

9. Self-moderation

Nominate people to moderate all interactions online. It it takes you two years to find out about a social group that is bad-mouthing customers, then you are not looking closely enough. Moderation works both ways - look at what your customers are saying and what your employees are saying.

10. Beware of copyright

Helping employees to understand copyright as it applies to the internet will be of great benefit to your social media and website strategy. If someone publishes content from another website on your own or on a blog, it could lead to trouble. Likewise, no content should be published without the creator’s permission. ‘It’s simple - other people’s information belongs to them.’