Post by Marsha Collier
If you intend to promote your brand and interact with customers through social networks and social media channels – and I highly recommend that you do – you must realize your employees will be there as well, with their own personal accounts. There’s no reason not to encourage your employees to explore and engage in social media communities online, but remember, they are also the face of your company to all their friends and associates – as well as to the customers they know. What they say online or the type of photos they post on their personal accounts may reflect, albeit in a roundabout way, on your business. When they directly talk about you or your business, it will have a cause and effect relationship.
It is your job to guide your business’s online culture and protect your brand’s online persona. Provide guidelines for your employees in the form of a Social Media Policy. This written document, similar to other codes of conduct you have for employees, will let them know what type of behavior you expect from them online and any limits as to what business-related information they can share in the public stream.
Here’s how one of our nation’s biggest companies handled it. Back in 2009, before most people thought about setting guidelines, Adam Brown broke ground by developing a 4R social strategy (review, respond, record, redirect) and spearheaded the development of social media guidelines for the Coca-Cola Company. Aside from designating a code of conduct for their official online spokespeople, Coca-Cola also laid out specific principles for their associates. By taking a look at what Coca Cola deemed appropriate, perhaps it will help you forge a set of standards for your own employees. From Coca-Cola’s Online Social Media Principles, the guidelines below with my explanations outline expectations for any online activities – personal or professional – where employees reference the company or have made their association with the company known.
- “Adhere to the Code of Business Conduct and other applicable policies” – Coca Cola has several policies regarding specific business activities, including general conduct, information protection and insider trading. All employees (from the CEO to interns) are expected to follow these when mentioning online that they are employees of Coca Cola.
- “You are responsible for your actions” – This point is a reminder to exercise sound judgment and common sense when posting online because employees will be held responsible if their actions negatively impact the business or its image.
- “Be a ‘scout’ for compliments and criticism” – This guideline acknowledges that employees are “vital assets for monitoring the social media landscape.” Coca-Cola even supplies an in-house email for forwarding both positive and negative comments employees observe online, so they can feel confident negative situations will be addressed without feeling like they must be the one to take action.
- “Let the subject matter experts respond to negative posts” – This point stresses, again, that should employees encounter a potentially damaging post about the business, the post should be referred to those trained and approved as official online spokespeople to handle responding.
- “Be conscious when mixing your business and personal lives” – This principle recognizes that personal and business personas often intersect online and reminds employees that everything that is posted online – even when channels or profiles are “private” or “protected” – can still ultimately be seen by anyone at any time through sharing, forwarding and general unintentional carelessness.