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In public view

15 May 2015

In public view - read more

Get the most from social media without risking everything

Social networking is growing in importance and influence. Organisations use it extensively to market themselves to consumers, clients and other businesses. It is also an effective lobbying tool. Alongside the many benefits however there is an element of risk.

Only 10 of the FTSE 100 companies do not have a Twitter account. Almost half have more than 10,000 followers and between them they tweeted nearly 1.5 million times in 2014. According to the Battenhall FTSE 100 social media report, in 2014 UK plc underwent something of a social revolution.

The numbers speak for themselves. Social networks connect millions of people who interact with these platforms everyday and this is set to increase. It has been claimed that more people own a mobile device than own a toothbrush, giving businesses the opportunity to engage directly with those people in their homes, when they are travelling and when they are at work.

There are some important mechanics that make social media so effective. Trust in our peers is one; a recommendation from a friend is more powerful than from a brand with a sales agenda. Erik Qualman of Socialnomics says that 90% of consumers trust peer reviews, yet only 14% trust brands without question.

Using social media effectively is therefore an absolute prerequisite for business success. Like any marketing activity, social media involves putting your business ‘out there’ – think of it like sending out a business development executive to meet new clients. There are benefits of bringing back more business, but there are also risks. What if they say the wrong thing, turn up late and make a bad impression? These risks are present, and more public, in social media marketing.

There are many examples of social media use gone wrong. In many of these cases, good planning and preparation and some practical steps would have stopped the crisis before it took place or, at the very least, given the business a solid platform to fall back on and limit its exposure. There are several social media issues that commonly occur and several ways of tackling each.

Tackling the risks

The first and probably most high profile risk is an employee posting something inappropriate. We have probably all seen the videos of fast food employees misbehaving in kitchens, or heard about the manager who tweeted offensive remarks before a long-haul flight to Africa and lost her job by the time she landed. These are extremes, however there are many other cases of employees posting embarrassing photos or talking about their job being ‘boring’ online. To anyone with a shred of common sense this seems incredible – but some people do need reminding.

Implement a policy

The best method to tackle this issue is the implementation of a social media policy. In general this should be simple and easy to understand – not a long document stuffed with legal language. One of the best examples is the BBC’s social media guidance for their own staff, which opens with: ‘A useful summary has always been and remains: Don’t do anything stupid.’

A good social media policy covers expected behaviour, outlining how to avoid negative action and how employees can use their social media positively. It should also serve as a reminder that, as employees, they represent the business in public, including social networking sites, and clear guidance on what they can expect to happen if they do something inappropriate.

Businesses can also suffer through individual mistakes, which usually take one of two forms. The first is a tweet from a corporate account that should have come from a personal account. There are numerous examples of this happening – most recently, an owl video being posted by the Labour press office. The most common excuse is that the account was hacked, but often the culprit is an overworked press officer hitting the wrong button on the social media profile.

Related to this is a post that is inaccurate or a mistake – social audiences will point out mistakes and correct misleading facts. This situation is easy to avoid. Like most marketing activity sign-off processes are important, so plan posts effectively by having a social media dashboard that has a built-in approval system for enterprise customers. You should also ensure, via your social media policy, that employees do not access their personal and professional accounts through the same portal. This will mitigate the risk of mistakes happening.

Access to accounts

Access to accounts in these situations is important. A recent example of how not to manage social media saw HMV struggling with its own marketing team while it was in the process of making them redundant. The marketing team had access to the official HMV Twitter account and live tweeted the process of 60 employees being asked to leave. The tweets included a quote from a senior manager who asked ‘how do we shut down Twitter?’ This is an extreme example, but highlights the difficultly organisations have when considering access to social media accounts. Who has access to the passwords; how often they are changed; and what happens if a password is changed by an employee who subsequently leaves the business, should be carefully considered.

Although Twitter is supportive of businesses and will help you regain an account if you can demonstrate it is yours, this will take time. A much better approach is to be proactive – using a social media management system, such as Hootsuite or Tweetdeck’s ‘teams’ feature, you can give access to others without handing over passwords. Likewise, Facebook and LinkedIn allow you to add page contributors with limited powers – posting content but not editing the page or changing details. This way you can retain control with a senior manager and with a corporate login.

Finally, and perhaps of most concern to many companies, is what to do about people who are critical of your business online. There will be people offering criticism regardless of whether your business is itself using social media, so a head-in-the-sand approach will not work. Most complaints posted online focus on customer service and are often most critical of business’ reaction to a problem, rather than the problem itself. Take the example of Dave Carroll, a musician from the USA who flew with United Airlines. Having seen a baggage handler throwing his guitar around at the airport, Carroll complained to the airline and asked for a replacement. When they refused he recorded and posted a song about the incident on YouTube. The video has been watched nearly 15 million times (or by 15 million potential customers) and some business commentators estimated that in the immediate aftermath the United Airlines share price dropped by 10% – $180 million.

React accordingly

You cannot prevent someone like Dave Carroll posting about his bad experience but you can train employees to recognise the potential for social media harm and react accordingly. Replacing his guitar and offering an apology would have turned this situation into a positive. There are tools that can help with this process – for example, the analysis tool Klout can give you insights into the relative influence of the individuals you are dealing with and therefore the risks to you if they are critical. This will inform your decision on how to engage with them about their criticism.

What these examples have in common is that they demonstrate the fact that we now do all of our business in public. It is more important than ever that internal business culture reflects the image that businesses want to show the world. Proper planning, good processes and robust policies can help you avoid mistakes, however, more important for social media success are employees acting as ambassadors; a culture that reflects the business’ external image; and leaders who engage effectively with their community of stakeholders.

Chris Chilton spoke at this year’s ICSA conference in Jersey, visit icsa.org.uk/events for more on our regional conferences. Social media awareness at board level is also discussed in our latest podcast, which you can listen to on www.govcompmag.com.

Chris Chilton is Account Director at Orchard PR

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