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6 Reasons Why Enterprise Social Media Needs its Own Playbook

The last thing any company getting on the social media bandwagon should do is adopt  best practices established by practitioners and “experts” in the consumer space. Consumers and enterprises have very different objectives so here are 6 reasons why enterprises should write their own playbook rather than borrow from the consumer space:

  1. Numbers do matter: I recently wrote a blog post on how folks are getting too obsessed with their Twittercount. I still believe that when you aren’t selling something, the obsession with Twitter and Facebook numbers is just an ego trip. Individual social media activity should be focused on quality of engagement rather than quantity. However, when you are a business – quality is important but so is quantity, perhaps more so. If you’re running social media campaigns or activities for your company, you’re expected to deliver results. One way of measuring results is by looking at customer engagement numbers, but how will you engage when there’s no one to engage with?
  2. Consistency is important: I remember when the Motrin/Twitter Momscontroversy erupted, well-known blogger Louis Gray had a great blog post on how “Brand Reputation Management is Not  a Monday-Friday Gig“. The same applies to social media in general. You can’t say, I am taking the week off, so the corporate blog can languish until I get back or the unhappy customer who has been tweeting about a product issue will just have to wait. When you’re doing it for your business, you have to make sure the show goes on regardless of  what’s going on in the background. Can you imagine, shutting down your company website just because the guy who manages it has gone on vacation? That becomes even more critical for social media, which is a much more dynamic media and people expect consistent real-time updates.
  3. It’s a team sport:Unless you’re a company of one, your social media team should involve many other cross-functional folks. so that you are representing voice of the company not just your individual thoughts. Having an individual voice for a personal blog is fine, but ideally you want to have consistent messaging even through your social media channels. As a business, you want to ensure you’re not confusing your customers by having conflicting points of view from two different employees from the same company. To make the content authentic,  input on social media content should come from subject matter and content experts, not just the best communicator/blogger on the team.
  4. It’s not personal:Like it or not, enterprise social media is all about business, so companies shouldn’t go crazy trying to emulate personal blogs in their content and approach. Your company’s social media content needs to be authentic, by which I mean present truthful information without any marketing or PR spiel. Being professional is also right up there with authenticity. As your customer, I don’t want to know about your six cats unless I am buying cat food from you and even then, I don’t care unless the information is  relevant and interesting to *me*. Your customers come to you for value (no matter which social media channel you choose to use) and it’s your job to make sure you deliver that value..minus any spin or personal stories, please.
  5. You can’t fake it: I cringe when I see social media enthusiasts trying to conjure up a fictitious fun persona for their corporate social media accounts, especially when their company culture is anything but customer-centric. This warm and fuzzy approach works for companies like Southwest Airlines or Zappos, because their brand IS fun and customer-oriented, so are their employees. However, if your company is notorious for lousy customer service, no amount of cutesy tweets will help your cause.
  6. Last but not the least, it’s NOT free:When you’re writing your personal blog, it’s a fun hobby and since most social sites/tools are free, there’s no financial cost involved. However, if this activity is for a company account, it’s costing the company $$$ because the company still has to pay their employees, right?! So it’s essential to put some productivity and business outcome metrics around social media activities to ensure that these activities are aligned with company’s financial objectives and goals.

Enterprises are in business to generate value for their stakeholders, whereas personal/consumer social media activities are not encumbered by those responsibilities. Enterprises should ignore the social media hype and do right by their customers. They should leverage the social media sites/tools to deliver value to and engage their customer base even when it’s perceived as being “uncool” to do so.


6 Simple Steps to Your Company’s First Social Media Policy

kittypornIn my previous post, I gave three reasons “Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy”. It’s reckless for companies engaging in the social media space not to provide their employees with some basic rules of engagement especially, as these employees blog, tweet, and engage on social sites as a representative of the company.

The purpose of the social media policy is to clearly define acceptable and unacceptable social media behavior for employees active in this space. Anyone can put together a bad policy and many policies are long and tedious, which is also why they are generally dreaded and loathed. Here are 6 simple steps to a social media policy that’s easy to create, understand, and implement.

#1 Don’t reinvent the wheel. The objective of this project is not to recreate the constitution and you don’t need a bunch of lawyers for this, either. Most companies  already  have  policies that cover confidentiality and ethics, start with those first. Leverage the existing policies and expand the scope as needed to cover social media activities. One practical approach that works well and avoids creation of multiple documents is to add a special section on social media to the overall corporate policy document.

#2 Don’t confuse policy with guidelines:  Many policy documents are excruciatingly long and irrelevant, because they end up being a mishmash of policies, guidelines, and anything else that is deemed to be remotely relevant. Don’t let your policy become a dumping ground. Keep it brief, precise and separate from your guidelines. It’s essential to  remember that policy and guidelines are not the same and shouldn’t be used interchangeably. Here’s an example of a policy – “Do not post confidential information on an external social media site or blog”, while a guideline is much more general  in nature – “Be authentic in your blog posts”.  Guidelines are best practices ie. “nice-to-have” but policy violations can have serious negative consequences for your business, so it’s important not to confuse the two.

#3 K.I.S.S.:  Don’t overdo it and don’t overwhelm your employees with a 100page policy. Keep it short and simple. The employee shouldn’t have to go through 20pages just to figure out whether or not to post something on a blog. Frontload the document with specific yet brief policy items and provide detailed examples and glossary of terms at the end.

#4 Complete the package: Once your policy is ready, add your guidelines section that outlines best practices and finish up with a process guide. The process guide should include information on processes in place to help your social media initiatives such as getting approvals for use of company logo or setting up an external blog. Voila! Now you have a solid social media engagement guide to help ensure that your employees are engaging responsibly and not out there creating a social media nightmare.  

#5 Communicate! Communicate! Communicate!: The problem with most company policies is that either employees don’t know about them or they don’t care. Make sure you make your social media policy visible and available. Communicate it through every internal channel available. Build it into your s0cial media planning process so that folks are required to review it before engaging in any type of social media activity.

#6 Last but not the least, keep it current: The social media space is evolving at a rapid pace, don’t let your policy get outdated and irrelevant. Make regular updates part of your social media policy creation process. Set time aside to review your policy on a regular basis so the policy is still relevant in the changing landscape.

If you don’t tell your employees what’s appropriate, you can’t and shouldn’t hold them responsible when things go wrong. These steps will help your employees and your company in engaging responsibly in the social media world, by creating a social media policy that’s easy to understand and follow.

Credits: Thanks to Jeff Bucchino, “The Wizard of Draws” for the Kitty photo http://www.cartoonclipart.com

Why Every Company Needs a Social Media Policy

In this social media age, where everything is public and privacy is mostly an illusion, it’s easy to get the lines blurred between what’s personal and what’s business. Many social media champions forget to remind their clients that social media is not without its pitfalls and companies have a responsibility to help their employees understand the rules of engagement in this highly open social media world. 

If your company or business doesn’t  already have clearly defined social media policy and related guidelines, here are 3 reasons why it should be a priority for every company:

Do your employees understand the difference between engaging on a social network/site for personal vs. professional reason?
These days, it’s highly unlikely to find someone who isn’t on at least some popular social networking site like Facebook or has uploaded a video to YouTube. Given the long hours spent at work and the growing influence of social media on our lives, the lines between professional and personal life are blurring. If your employees use their personal account to pitch your products and your customers believe that they are representing your company, your company may very well be liable for their actions even if you didn’t authorize them. If you don’t want the next headline on Techcrunch or NY Times quoting your employee ,who was discussing the weaknesses of your product with friends on a seemingly private venue like Facebook , you need to clearly define acceptable online social behavior.  Even if you think it’s highly unlikely to happen, are you willing to take a chance and risk having to debate it in court some day?

Do your employees blog or engage on social media sites on behalf of your company?
For legal and practical reasons, you need to have the rules of engagement spelled out for your employees. If you don’t have some clearly defined guidelines and policies for engaging with your customers, you can’t blame your employees for posting inappropriate information on your company website or on behalf of your company. They might be including links to their personal website or or talking about products that aren’t even launched yet because they don’t know any better. It’s amazing how even rational people get carried away because the medium is so new and engaging that it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s appropriate and what’s not.

Do your employees understand the legal and other implications of posting content on a social media site or public blog?
Even folks who are engage in social media on a regular basis don’t understand the implications of sharing information on a social media site. It’s essential to note that on social media sites, that nothing is private and nothing is sacred. Anything your employees say could be misunderstood, misinterpreted, and used against your company and the employees themselves. Recently, courts in New Zealand and Australia ruled that court papers could be served via the popular social networking site, Facebook. Peter Shankman has a detailed account on his blog, how a seemingly social media-savvy PR person got into trouble with his client when he posted some not-so-flattering comments about his client’s location on Twitter.

I can understand why businesses don’t want to stifle the spirit of their social media enthusiastic employees however, as much as these policies and guidelines protect the company, they also help the employees avoid embarassing themselves. Many social media gaffes are not because of malicious intent but rather due to lack of awareness and understanding of what’s acceptable in rapidly evolving online social space.

Does having a policy or guidelines mean your employees won’t ever post something they’re not supposed to?  Of course not, there are no guarantees in life and certainly not in business, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t at least try to mitigate potential liability. Just your company wouldn’t let a new employees run the business without some basic guidance, its unacceptable not to extend the same courtesy to employees who are representing your company and navigating the social media space on behalf of their employer.

Can you be a social media expert without tweeting or blogging?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about a social media ‘expert’ who doesn’t tweet or blog, which got me thinking – How important is it for the social media ‘experts’ to actually get their hands dirty?

Tom Foremski has touched on the same issue in his post , ‘Can you advise on social media if you don’t use it?’

Foremski talks about a PR person whom he met recently, who doesn’t blog or tweet but advises clients on social media and claims that,

… she knows all about Facebook and Twitter and blogging even though she doesn’t blog or leave comments, she isn’t on Facebook, and doesn’t have a Twitter account.

It seems that just by the virtue of being in a customer-facing and/or web-related role, professionals in communication, PR, marketing, and SEO have been thrust onto the social media scene. But chances are that while their clients look to them for guidance on how to navigate this new space, these folks are also scrambling to catch up and are probably just as clueless as their clients.

I agree with Foremski that if you’re supposed to be an expert in ‘social’ media, can you really be credible if you aren’t out there being..um.. social?! There are definite advantages to getting your hands dirty. It gives one more credibility with clients and helps reassure them that the advice they’re getting  is based on experience, not just theory. It also provides a good understanding about what works and what doesn’t in the social media space, without relying on someone else’s opinion. 

That being said, blogging or tweeting by itself doesn’t make one an expert in social media. There are plenty of folks who have a huge following on social media sites, but not many of them are qualified to advise anyone on social media. And lately, everyone has a blog so that’s not a great indicator of social media expertise either. This great cartoon shared by Mark Evans, strikes a chord as everyone claims to be a social media expert these days. 

I think it’s irrelevant whether these ‘experts’ learn about social media tools and sites by using them or researching them. What’s more important is that folks who are responsible for advising their clients on social media aren’t married to a single tool or site. These professionals need to be objective and tool/site-agnostic so they can recommend the right tools for their clients, even if they aren’t experts in using it. There’s nothing worse than a so-called expert who recommends a specific social site or tool because that’s the only one they are familiar with.

At end of the day, clients aren’t just paying for someone’s expertise in social media but rather their expertise in how to use social media to help their business.

Is social media out of control?

I was on YouTube the other day looking for some dance videos, when I saw my 5yr old dancing her little heart out. I was horrified. Some overly enthusiastic parent had recorded one of the dance sessions from her class and posted it on YT. I don’t know what bothered me more, that I wasn’t asked for permission or the belief that children’s classrooms should be off-limits. The video is innocuous but it’s the principle, where do you draw the line between what’s private and what’s public?

On Global Privacy Day yesterday, Erick Schonfield from Techcrunch provided some insights from Microsoft’s recent study on customer attitudes towards online privacy and the findings are very telling and especially this one,

Once their data is online, they know that it is gone.  They say, “I need to have this value, but I’m not sure my risks are being covered.”

Have we all collectively gone nuts? Are we really so desperate to be ‘connected’ that we’re willing to risk our personal information to do it? We barely talk to our neighbors but we’re so willling to give random strangers online, the details of our personal life. It’s still shocking to me how many people add their birthdates, where they live, where they work, etc. to social networking sites. And that’s okay if you only share information with friends but when you’re adding everyone in the online world to your ‘friends’ list, how long before your information is abused by some cyber-criminal?

While we the users are behaving irrationally and irresponsibly, the social sites have been equally apathetic. Their response hasn’t been all that re-assuring either and their approach has been mostly reactive than proactive.

Twitter is working on an authentication protocol for third-party developers intended to make the site more secure, which sounds like a step in the right direction but begs the question: why it took them so long to react to a series of account hijackings? Popular blogger Louis Gray has Twittered about scamsters setting roost on Facebook, but there isn’t much transparency into what FB’s doing about it.

Identity theft-prevention experts urge consumers not to reveal too much personal information and privacy advocates are fighting for our right to keep our personal life..well..private, we are too busy tweeting every detail of our mundane lives and sharing our passwords with strange, unvetted strangers. Social media is still the wild wild west without any defined rules of engagement and we are changing the rules and making new ones up as we go along. As social media mature and users realize that following or befriending ten thousand strangers doesn’t make our social life any more fulfilling, rational thinking will (hopefully) prevail and we will start taking our privacy that much more seriously.

5 reasons why social media skeptics maybe right

When it comes to social media, there are plenty of skeptics out there who  have dabbled in social media but are still having a hard time buying into the hoopla. Typical skeptics include your traditional marketers, enterprise executives, etc. who are intrigued by social media but are very reluctant to commit many resources to it.

Here are 5 reasons why the skeptics might be on to something.

#1 Show me the metrics! 
The biggest problem with social media today is that there aren’t many  clearly defined metrics. For traditional marketers, that’s a huge hurdle, not just in getting their social media budget approved but also proving that their social media programs were successful. If you don’t even know what you’re supposed to measure, how do you measure it’s success??? ROI is becoming increasingly important, as it should be, especially in this tight economy. Social media may sound like the greatest thing ever invented but without quantifiable results, it’s hard to justify any $$ investment.

2# Here today and gone tomorrow?
There are fundamental site stability and security issues and even major social networks like Facebook, Twitter are not immune to hacking and site stability issues. And let’s not forget that most, if not all, social networking sites are  privately or VC funded with little or no revenue  despite all the traffic. Given the economic recession, it’s anyone’s guess which ones are going to be still around this time next year, so it’s no surprise that many still remain reluctant to invest resources in this media.

#3 It’s not just the ‘what’ but the ‘how’ that’s also perplexing
Once you’re over the challenge of figuring out what metrics are meaningful, the challenge still remains around tracking  and assigning some meaningful value to these metrics. Say you decide to monitor tweets, retweets, # of followers on Twitter; # of ‘friends’ or posts on FB.

A multitude of questions arise, one which is how can you drive more tweets? And how much is a retweet worth, anyways? Also, which tools or services should you use to track activity? And last but not the least, which one will last the downturn?
#4 Not enough experienced guides for the uncharted waters
Given that it’s so new, there aren’t many ‘experts’ who are experienced in implementing social media campaigns or figuring out how it should fit into a company’s overall corporate strategy. Social media has many evangelists  talking up the opportunity of this media but not many who are able to articulate the value in quantifiable terms that traditional marketers and executives are comfortable with.
#5 It’s the culture, stupid!
Let’s not forget that many are not used to being so ‘social’ or open on public forums. Before Twitter came along and made ‘twittering’ acceptable, it wasn’t considered ‘normal’ to be constantly pitching details of your mundane life on websites unless you were a publicity-crazy celebrity. In some circles, shameless self-promotion is still considered bad taste and downright loony, so while there might be millions of users on social networks, the active users are still early adopters.
There’s no doubt about the immense opportunity that social media presents, but it still has a long way to go and the dots from opportunity to reality need to be connected before it can truly deliver on its promise and make believers out of the nay-sayers.

Online socializing in the downturn

I was surfing Alexa and Compete to see how the recent economic downturn (that we are not calling a recession) has impacted traffic to the popular social sites and saw some interesting trends.

Orkut traffic has gone down 36% over the last year while Friendster has lost over 20%. Unlike the latter, Friendster seems to inching upwards but Alexa shows traffic for Orkut  plunging over the last year. It’s interesting that neither of these sites has a major following in the U.S., Orkut’s traffic is mostly from Latin America, with Brazil accounting for over 50% of the traffic, while Friendster’s domain is Asia.

Friendster has been actively courting the Facebook developer community as well as expanding its  text alert  feature to several Asian countries, which no doubt helps increase site engagement. Orkut team on the other hand, recently introduced Orkut for iPhone but it’s not clear how many among its target audience use iPhone. Also, the site hadn’t opened access to third-party apps until this year to users outside Brazil and Asia (and Estonia??), which limited the possibility of engaging new users outside of the select countries.

Looking at the two dominant players in the N.American market, Facebook still seems to be going gangbusters with 70% YOY growth, thanks to a combination of user-friendly interface and new engaging features, while growth for the chaotic MySpace is leveling off.

I would assume that more people are socializing online during these interesting times, probably because there are more topics/issues to socialize over and thanks to the flurry of layoffs recently, more time on their hands to devote to it.