Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Expanding the conversation – giving everyone in your business a voice – 2

Posted in book recommendations, strategy and planning, Web 2.0 marketing by Timothy Platt on May 6, 2011

This is my second posting in a short series on opening up lines of communications (see Part 1: Giving Everyone in Your Business a Voice) and with a specific focus on message and branding. As I said in Part 1 this may be an area of responsibility traditionally owned by a Marketing and Communications department, or by Marketing and Sales or by some other-named line on the table of organization. It is not as important here what specific functional service or department manages this, as what core assumptions they do that from and what processes they follow as a result.

But that starting note, tying this posting to Part 1 is in many respects misleading if simply left as is, as the basic thrust of Part 1 was on moving away from a simple centrally owned and managed model for message and brand, and regardless of what department has owned them. That earlier posting was all about Web 2.0 and the interactive web, and social media. It was about:

• Breaking down the silo walls to allow for more direct and wide-ranging conversation and the creation and sharing of value, and
• Conversation that actively, directly includes employees of the organization outside of the traditional message and brand owners.
• And frequently including customers and voices from the larger marketplace as well.

How can you do this and have any due diligence in place, or any control as to how your business is represented and positioned in the marketplace? How can you open up like this and limit risk exposure, including possible legal liabilities? My goal in this posting is to at least start building a framework for accomplishing that. And I would argue that any effective response has to start with a single basic principle:

• You need to provide your employees with a safe framework to connect and communicate through when they represent their department, their business/employer, or their industry. This, I add also has to include guidance and support for employees as they social media participate on their own and as individuals, but where they may be sharing opinions related to their work, their employer, their industry or their customers and their industries – places where there can be a blurring of lines and confusion as to whether they are posting entirely on their own.

This means in practice, developing and offering everyone in your business a Social Media Guideline to follow, and that has to include a number of specific parts.

1. An introduction that gives permission to use social media as a means of sharing opinion and information that may be business related. This would also at least briefly discuss the options formally available through the business for this, such as resources for setting up a business-supported blog. And it would touch on the general types of third party resources that employees might network and share through outside of the business itself. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and third party blogging sites such as WordPress are just a few examples of what is available, with this range of options continually growing, and that needs to be discussed here too.
2. Guidelines on how to join in on social media, with sections on transparency as to who you are and where you work, taking responsibility for what you post and share, confidentiality on what you can and cannot post about and share in the way of information, and following common sense. Examples help in all of this. For issues of confidentiality for example, detailed guidelines on protecting personal information regarding specific customers, and proprietary business intelligence need to be clearly spelled out and with reasoning as to why. Here, that would include outlining something of the legal liability challenges that could arise from divulging personally identifiable customer information, as a case in point. Yes, this includes issues that would be covered more than once in the overall guide but duplication is not always a problem.
3. Best practices for using social media with discussions of topics like tone and writing with a personal voice, quality and both in content accuracy and in clarity of writing – and in limiting typos and spelling and grammatical errors, and of course building trust. When you write clearly and articulately and come across as knowledgeable and honest – not simply trying to push an agenda or force a sale, you present yourself as someone who is trustworthy.
4. Responding to marketplace feedback: this can mean comments and replies posted to employee social media postings, and it can include responding to reviews on third party sites. This would include processes for sharing word of negative reviews that might need specific response with specific people in the organization tasked with managing social media exposure and communications, and it should discuss processes for work with them in crafting responses where this would be done by functional area expert employees and not by marketing and communications generalists.
5. Oversight and review with information on how problems would be identified, reviewed and resolved if inappropriate material were posted: this all needs to be clearly spelled out, and I add that someone has to be available to respond to questions and concerns that employees may have. “Can I post about this?” “What types of details can I share, and can I write this in terms of a ‘typical’ but imaginary customer and meeting their needs if I do not share any details about any specific real customers in the process?” (An answer for that one may include “make it clear that you are in effect constructing a ‘typical’ customer, but that any specific details provided are made up and not based on any specific real customer, current or past. And let this office review what you have written before it goes live.”) This section would also have to outline consequences for violating posting policy, and both as far as business guidelines are concerned and where that may involve legal liability and violations of law (e.g. unapproved distribution of personally identifiable information and violation of a customer’s legal rights.) It would also include discussion as to when you can state you are speaking or writing on behalf of the business and when views and opinions are your own and not necessarily representative of your employer – and how to state that too.
6. A periodically updated compendium of resources formally available that would be of help to employees, and both in determining what to post and share, and where they can do this. The later would include information on third party social networking groups and other outside resources set up by the business or with its approval as well as more strictly in-house maintained resources such as sites for setting up those business branded blogs, etc. As an example of third party resources here, this may include Yahoo, Google, Facebook or LinkedIn groups or similar as maintained on the servers of any of a wide range of other providers. Online groups, of course are only a small part of what is available here. This would also include a directory of people in the business to turn to for specific information or for review of copy if the writer has questions or concerns they would want addressed before posting live. And for some organizations, all postings going out as representing the company may require approval through a specific office – that is simply a matter of how policy is developed and with time that may remain restrictive or it may become more open and relaxed.

There is, of course a lot more to this than I have touched on here but this is a starting point. A number of working examples of this type of guideline are available online and for further details here I would suggest the following book.

• Li, Charlene. (2010) Open Leadership: the way social technology can transform the way you lead. Jossey-Bass – a Wiley imprint.

My next posting is going to look into approaches for developing this type of guideline, and in ways that increase both relevancy and usefulness and both for your employees and your business, and also increase buy-in and compliance.

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