Today I gave a talk at Gibbon PC, a top rated law firm in the New York area, as part of a program that the law firm sponsors called the Women’s Initiative, with Jennifer A. Klear, Suzanne Herrmann Brock, and well-known blogger Patrick DiDomenico (@lawyerKM). Gibbon regularly hosts events for their clients and other attorneys to help educate and inform women professionals about key industry issues. As many of the attendees are Human Resources executives, naturally the conversation of this session “Online Social Networking for the Professional” focused on both growing and managing the impact of social media upon and within the enterprise from the HR and Legal perspective. We often work with companies to create enterprise-level social media integration plans and conduct best practice training.
As an industry, there is a lot of talk about the importance of monitoring yourself and your company’s reputation online – paying attention to what is being said, ensuring information is accurate, correcting or deleting that which is incorrect and responding factually and quickly to negative or false information.
Currently, most policies either focus their philosophy on controlling or limiting the employee or, in other kinds of organizations, they support and encourage social media use to help further the brand. (See my earlier blog post that details leading blog and social media policies). In any case, guidelines are incomplete if they fail to identify escalation policies for when employees discover information about the company that is potentially problematic. Here is where most organizations fall short and often leave the action or decision-point to their staff to figure out the best course of action. This is especially important within larger organizations where the staff-management communications streams can be varied.
Larger companies should consider preparing and sharing an escalation protocol for when an employee discovers damaging, bad or inaccurate information on a social media channel or network. Leaving the decision of whether to post a comment, celebrate a positive remark, tweet or post, and perhaps more importantly, to correct, or to report a social media brand finding is a heavy burden to place on employees without guidance. Sometimes a well-meaning employee could inadvertently fan fires or add to misinformation even with the best intentions.
There are great rewards possible with sharing communication discovery responsibilities with your employees, as they can be strong agents of source identification for your company! The more people your company has keeping an eye on things the better it is for you – so don’t limit reputation watching to within the walls of marketing and PR. The aggregation of staff will have a great exposure to a wide range of social media and they may find brand-damaging content different places that PR or Marketing departments would typically look. Also, as many networks have password protected access, the content within the communities are also protected and not typically find-able through Google alerts and RSS feed searches so the likelihood that there is more “out there” than meets the eye is very likely! It is better to know what is out there so you can get in the conversation productively, than assume all is well.
If your employees find information about your company that they believe may be false or damaging, you may want to recommend they report it to their manager (and do not post or reply back). You may create an easy and fast way for employees to just dash off their discovery and move on, such as creating an email address specifically used for information discovery. This way, people could simply copy and paste the information and link or forward it to an appropriate HR or communications manager.
If you have a company intranet or WIKI, it would be to your advantage to create a channel there or reporting area on it so staff can submit the discovery online. This will cut down on duplicate reporting and also create a sense of camaraderie among your staff brand evangelists. But don’t get me started on why every enterprise needs (yes NEEDS a collaborative internal community) as that is for another day.
Be aware that often times the act of “reporting” can be misperceived as a negative behavior so it would be beneficial to create an environment that promotes the good deeds of staff brand evangelists. Consider even offering rewards (can be social rewards or recognition) for those who find and report social media inputs about the company. Of course, there are some of you who are saying, “Hey wait! Won’t that encourage people to surf more while at work? “ To that I say, relax. There will always be extreme behaviors possible, but chances are your star employee won’t cease to work productively due to the lure of achieving a reporting prize of a squishy ball or gym bag with your company logo on it.” Socializing the reporting as a positive act may be necessary to get the ball rolling.
Once the informing process has been created and communicated, the next step is to put in place response guidelines. Whoever oversees this communication channel (email, form, WIKI edit, message post, cardboard box with slit in lunchroom, etc) should be provided with response guidelines that enable speedy responses that embody communication best practice – honest, open communication with the negative communicator in most cases is the best way to go. In some cases, however, with direct attacks or outright slander, it is sometimes better to not respond or comment back. These cases need to be reviewed on a situational basis within the company, however. Consider working with your legal department in order to define a few key guidelines for response in advance of an issue. Be sure to find a social media savvy Corporate Counsel or else you may suffer from being given a set of guidelines that are legally sound but culturally inappropriate for social media, or gather input on the legalese to ensure it is social-media friendly. Whatever the case, do not get caught up on old-world processes of having the legal department review and de-humanize every social media response. Nothing will garner uglier brand tarnish than a response issued in legalese on a social media platform!
So, as a final point, be sure to celebrate successes and praise online – thank bloggers and tweeters for being brand evangelists, create safety nets for employees who discover brand tarnish to report it so it can be managed effectively, and respond quickly and humanly to criticism.