The risk of going social for business
Many experts advise that businesses should open company social media accounts to its employees, while others advise against it. Proponents tout the advantages of relationship and trust building with customers and positive interactions with your market.
Opponents, on the other hand, may cite events like the recent Twitter debacle where Chrysler Motors posted this beauty of a tweet: "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the motorcity and yet no one here knows how to f**king drive". The original message was NSFW, and while many chuckles ensued, imagine the horror and frantic scrambling for the phones when Chrysler execs saw this doozie!
It came to light that an employee of the company that handles the automakers social media campaigns was responsible for the slip-up, most likely tweeting to the Chrysler account instead of a personal one by mistake. The company deleted the errant tweet, and issued an apology to Chrysler's followers, for which I'm sure most understanding people will soon forgive and forget, but it does go to show how a company's reputation can be affected by social blunders, even with the best of intentions.
Employees as ambassadors for your brand
Despite the occasional folly, I'm still inclined to recommend opening the lines of communication for employees of your company through social media. For one, your employees are already on Twitter and Facebook throughout the work day anyway. Yes, they are. So you need to consider: do you set allowable workplace distractions, or let your employees choose their own? I'll advise to let there be no shame in it, so long as it doesn't interrupt productivity (hint: with a written social media policy in place, it may even increase productivity).
Second, employees are more likely to become passionate about the services they provide, given that they essentially become public figures with a level of expertise and implied authority that customers will look up to. So why not train employees to represent your brand effectively, and give managers and/or employees the crown of being ambassadors for your business through social media marketing.
Establishing the ground rules in written format will let every manager and employee involved know what is acceptable and what isn't. Most importantly it will convey to everyone exactly what the goal is regarding the company's social presence online. Are you going social for reputation management? To provide customer support? To show transparency in your company? To increase your marketing reach? Maybe a combination of these ideas? When all parties know what it is they are striving for, you will see your social media effectiveness - and your bottom line - skyrocket.
Also, let only those who have the desire take on these additional responsibilities, as these people will best represent your brand. It's important to note here that taking on a social media role in the company should be completely voluntary!
Establishing Social Media policy in the workplace
When establishing company social media policy it's important to cover such aspects as divulging proprietary company information, revealing information of a personal or private nature, use of profanity, keeping a positive voice, time allowed on social sites vs. actual workplace activity, when and what personal social media activity is allowed, etc.
Also document what the consequences would be for an employee who violates the rules of the policy. Educate your employees on this document during the process of training them for their social media role, and have them sign a copy that goes into their personnel file.
Start small, keep it fun
Obviously, you can't just go company wide with social media right out of the gates. There are likely to be plenty of glitches and concerns, and a bit of upheaval until new roles become routine, so it makes sense to start out on smaller scale. Choose a small core of people, like department managers. Give them a few weeks and have them report their experiences in monthly meetings. This is a great time to discuss insights on what does and doesn't work, and provides the opportunity for brainstorming on a regular basis. Throughout the process, keep in mind the short and long term marketing goals of the company regarding social media.
As your businesses social networking experience unfolds you can refine your social media policy further, and eventually reach a point where you're comfortable passing social media roles to other employees. While a project manager may have great information to provide to customers and potential clients through your business' social networks, employees with more specific roles and "hands-on" responsibilities will have even more insight to provide concerning your company's products and services. Everyone can play a role in the customer support your company provides.
Don't rule out the thought of having contests and offering incentives that can be awarded individually or to entire departments to keep employees motivated and engaged. Offer your employees prizes like catered lunches at work, extra days off, "early-outs", and even pay bonuses for reaching specific milestones you set. Make sport of it, and watch your business sail.
Remember, this should be an enjoyable way for your employees to contribute to reaching your company's goals. If and when social media becomes more of a chore than a desired responsibility, things will spiral out of control. It will always be imperative to keep an open channel of two-way communication up and down the ladder. Establishing a social media committee, meeting on a weekly to monthly basis, is a simple way to accomplish this. Round table discussions will promote brainstorming and give everyone involved their own voice in the process.
In the end you'll find that the benefits of all this far outweigh the problems you might encounter. The one real problem you may find is just getting started with social media in the first place. There is a sizable learning curve involved, especially in using social media for business purposes, and it can seem quite daunting. You could appoint a knowledgeable employee as your company's "social media manager", or hire an outside consultant or marketing firm.
There are social media marketing agencies both large and small that can provide training and education to your staff and/or take on your company's social campaigns either entirely or in part. Don't be afraid to seek help from outside sources, as they can provide insights you may never have thought of, and remove a lot of the hassle and worry if you are not familiar with social media marketing for business.