Thursday, June 25, 2009

Initiating a Corporate Social Media Presence – Unleash Your Inner Star Power

Social Media’s a scary animal, especially for companies or organizations that are accountable to stakeholders, policy, law or any other governing entity that exists to mitigate risk. Also, social media is an online collaboration channel and tools domain that’s most appropriately and effectively utilized by humans, i.e. individual personalities (preferably employees) – vs. corporate personas or third-party services. So how does a company begin to use social media, break into and contribute to the online dialogue, and avoid reputation issues while maintaining appropriate accountability?

Find, identify, nurture, coach and ultimately unleash your employee social media stars – they’ll be the face of the company, the purveyors of online dialogue, and will most likely do a great job at it. Why and how?

First of all, the social media platforms and tools are the dominion of the Internet-literate, the digerati, typically those more inclined and interested to communicate online at least as often as they relate offline (or by phone). It’s usually easier to find and identify folks like this, than it is to train them – since most open source social media skills can only be learned “in production”, i.e. without a “training” environment and IDs – most people who easily navigate social media have already learned how to use these tools on their own, with their own personas or via external interests. They’ve already taken some risks, exhibited some courage, and learned some lessons. Hire or identify a “Social Media Evangelist”, one like this with proven and public credentials, to help guide your strategy and tactics. Then canvass your employees, survey the web, find employees who are active social media users already. These are the seed candidates, the American Idol “you’re going to Hollywood!” group.

Next, filter and weed – not all users of social media use it well, or use it in a manner consistent with your corporate culture, public presence, company policies or communication styles, etc. Some may be “power users” – but really don’t write well enough to represent the professionalism of your company, notwithstanding general acceptance of all kinds of online slang and abbreviations. Some don’t typically consider the “bigger picture” or context-specific etiquette when posting, for example where the post might end up – and how it might be interpreted. After multiple rounds of syndication, digging, mixxing, friendstering, tarpiping, etc., posts might too often get blurry between business and pleasure, thereby losing effectiveness of intention (and probably becoming just a bunch of noise). Those who really do represent and focus on their interests or agenda using well-formed language and current, accurate references – with obvious intentions and open agenda – are the targets for your external “Digerati” (i.e. your “Social Media Liaisons”, or “Corporate Communications Liaisons”).

Now you’ve crowd-sourced the “experts”, it’s time to initiate them, molding their expertise according to your company’s interests – while not unnecessarily diluting interesting personalities. This means a structured program of personal brand coaching, training and perhaps apprenticeship in the finer arts of public relations, communications and Internet Marketing 2.0 – as delivered via Social Media channels and aligned to your company’s traditional web presence. (Your company should have developed a “Policy on Public Discourse”, or something like it, governing communications by employees in public and on the Internet - we've implemented this at Blackstone Technology Group). Since there are not yet very effective or available tools for automating social media governance, demonstrations and internal discussion with the Social Media Liaison, as postings are made, work best (i.e. learn by example) – and then a review and commenting process of postings by the “trainees”, as they start to participate. While the social media landscape is always changing, and new tools and methods are popping up all the time, the foundations of successful public discourse on the Internet don’t really change:

Be real, be yourself, be wise to current policies and public relations objectives of your company and context, don’t spam or be negative, don’t miss opportunities to appropriately use marketing keywords, and by all means give back to the communities you participate in.

Success in this process yields the right number and distribution (i.e. across various topic areas or corporate functions) of employee social media “stars”, who most effectively represent the very positive, engaged and personal attractiveness of your company and their personal brand on the Internet. Not only will the company prosper through social media use, but employees will also find their voice and opinion more readily exposed, thereby promoting a lot of pride in their contributions to their company, their fellow employees and their individual careers.

If you’d like more information on this subject, just drop me a (social) line. I’ve been experimenting with this process from both the employee and employer perspectives – it certainly does take a lot of in-person guidance and coaching to learn to effectively use social media without harming your personal reputation, career or corporate/stakeholder interests.

1 comment:

Marc - Strategic Consulting said...

I like this article very much. It's a great primer for companies to get started with an overall internet presence management program using social media. Internet Presence Management and Social Media.