Social media has gripped the business world as the “new way” to identify new customers, build market awareness and generate increasing long term sales. However, the reality is that most company owners are still trying to understand the benefits that social media could bring to their businesses, and the differences between the vast numbers of platforms that exist. Andrew Gerrard of the social media firm LikeMinds recently reviewed the reasons why companies are embracing the technology and concluded ‘markets are conversations, talk is cheap and silence for any business is fatal!’ While this is very true little is often said about the risks of social media to businesses.
In the United States for example the securities laws require that all companies listed on a recognised stock exchange have an understanding of the risks facing the business. Social media is potentially a risk if not correctly managed and listed companies have a responsibility to disclose this information to shareholders. Companies in the US now recognise that as a minimum they must put in place policies regarding social media practices.
Comments on social media platforms from disgruntled customers and employees who let-off steam about their employer can cause severe damage to a company’s reputation and its position in the market. Although it is often impossible to stop, the approach that the company takes to deal with the problem is critical.
A common problem is that most large corporates give the social media governance problem to their Marketing Communication and/ or Legal Counsel Department to deal will. This creates a ‘silo mentality’ and often does not encompass or involve all staff across the business. So what should be done and what is the current best practice? Campbell Ventures has researched this area and a few notable examples have emerged:
IBM have set blogging guidelines for staff and have trained/ educated staff on the use and best practice of social media in a sophisticated and beneficial way that communicates the company’s policies and how they expect staff to behave.
Dell Computer is actively encouraging the use of social media and sees this as an important direct communication channel between customers and staff. Dell has trained staff to use social media safely and how it can be used and applied in a business context.
Cap Gemini have also set policies and training programmes and have even requested the details of all staff personal email and social media accounts. They search and monitor all electronic communications that use the company’s name in the body of the text.
The industry sector can also greatly impact how a business sets its social media policy. Two industry sectors that have specific issues/ challenges when using social media communications include the life sciences sector and the financial services industry. In the case of the life sciences and pharmaceuticals industry regulation demands that key product information is communicated in all messages, and that strict advertising and safety monitoring is adhered to. The strict regulation impacts how information is communicated using social media. Another major challenge is that this differs from country to country and often the communication needs to be country specific which works against the global nature of social media.
The financial services sector also faces many of the same type of challenges with strict regulation and restrictions on the type and content of information that can be communicated to a potential/ current customer.
In conclusion it is wise to put into place a social media company policy to help reduce future risks. Campbell Ventures recommends that you consider the following approach:
- Set clear objectives on what the company want to achieve using social media and set realistic and measurable targets. Feedback regularly to staff how the firm is progressing against these targets.
- Give all staff guidance and training on social media usage at work and explain how it can be used in a business context.
- Clearly state in the policy what is and what is not reasonable behaviour when using social media.
- Include in the policy rules on confidential information, diversity and protection of the firm’s reputation.
- Set guidelines on who owns the data e.g. social media contact details. This is particularly important when an employee leaves the company.
- Communicate the policy to all employees and take an inclusive approach across the company.
- The CEO and the Board need to take responsibility and lead on how these policies are set and communicated to staff. The Board should not only look at creating policies to help deal with things when they go wrong, but also look at the commercial opportunities of using social media that will benefit the business – a two pronged approach.
- Asking staff to volunteer details of their social media accounts so that they can all be monitored is a flawed strategy and will rarely work.
- Actively manage your company’s social media successes, and if necessary use disciplinary measures if behaviours do not align to your policy.
To discuss on a confidential basis how you can create a social media policy for your company please contact Mike Campbell, Managing Director on firstname.lastname@example.org or call on +44 7771 615641. Further information regarding Campbell Ventures’s services can be found on campbell.pwebs.co.uk and www.china-business-experts.com.