The riots in London have no doubt caught the world’s attention. With so many means to gain an insight to what was going on during the riots, social networking has once again shown its strength. As this Wired story points out, Britain is looking into shutting down social networks during times of crisis – for the safety of the people. For a government, this is coming across negatively.
Companies face a similar concern. Employees that use social networks, and that post potentially harmful comments – not only put their reputation on the line, they also put the company’s reputation on the line. Let’s be honest that many folks would like to have the freedom to post whatever they want (this is a good thing) and not have it tied to their employer (this can be a bad thing). That’s all fine as long as everything is fine. However, when some negative post, Tweet, etc. is made, many reading it – from an average Joe to the media – are quick to make the leap and attach what that individual said to their employer.
For this reason, companies should have social networking policies in place. It is first important to establish what person or department “owns” social networking management within a company. And this should be a PR person or the PR department / firm. This sets up a clear channel for employees to turn to about making posts. It should be made clear that any employee is always representing a company – even if they have a blog, etc. disclosure that states otherwise – so they are always on their best behavior. Being anonymous does not shield employees from being tied to a company. It should also be made clear that references to their employer in personal social networking mediums should not be allowed – keep business and personal separate. While it is great to have a personal blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc account about what you do if you’re passionate about it, employees should keep their company out of it. It’s just safest for both parties.
It’s also important to be clear about your identity – does your blog, Tweet profile, etc. identify yourself as with a company, associated with a company, etc. We’ve all sometimes heard USA media reporting a story about a company and at the end, they point out that company owns that media outlet. It’s important to disclose if you have any type of vested interest in any post, comment, etc. In other words, always be truthful. It’s also equally important that employees on social networks replying to comments, posts, Tweets, etc. know who they are responding to. If the person has an anonymous profile, ask for clarity. The last thing you want is an employee being baited by someone with a hidden agenda.
Social networking represents another way for people to state negative thoughts about your company or blogger, Tweeter, etc. – that can spread like a wildfire. Employees should not answer negative with negative. It’s always a no-win situation. You should view negative comments as opportunities to learn or turn a negative into a positive.
Your company should develop guidelines for social networking and distribute them to each employee. They should also be made available publicly. It’s also a good idea to have a public-facing policy so those engaging you in social networking are also clued into expected behavior by your employees and them.