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The future of communication?

Business, Marketing | November 1, 2015 | By:

Social media success requires a strategic approach and an emergency response plan.

Social media was once considered the future of communication. Facebook and Twitter™ had unlimited and unknown power. That was 2007; 2016 is approaching fast.
Countless connections from person to person to company to person have been made as the applications of social media have evolved. Use of social media is not limited to big brands, international retailers and celebrities who post selfies as a career. Social media is big business. Odds are that you have a social media presence and that your company has one as well. You’ve built your company from zero to “some” followers, likes or subscribers. You post content when you can that gets likes, comments, shares or retweets. These engagements are the goal for most individuals and companies. These metrics are one way you can determine relevancy and potentially drive business.

Many businesses recognize the potential of social media and have dedicated internal resources or hired a consultant or agency to handle their online activities. With a plan in place, what can go wrong?

Recall the unfortunate examples from Home Depot (a racist tweet sent by its former social media agency), Kenneth Cole (multiple controversial tweets about serious current events to promote his brand) and McDonald’s #mcdstories (intended to inspire positive stories about Happy Meals, the hashtag turned into a bashtag with tweets that instead recounted bad experiences). Some missteps are due to lack of awareness, poor logic, naiveté and, at times, rogue employees. Whatever the reason, social media mistakes are easy to come by but difficult to forget.

When mistakes happen

What are the repercussions of a mistake on social media? Like the above examples, these mistakes remain emblazoned online through articles and screen shots. Citing these examples required only a simple Internet search of “social media mistakes.” Your brand, personal or professional, can suffer long-term damage. Social media users are given a forum to speak their mind—and react more quickly and publicly than ever before. One mistake can be amplified exponentially. Once a groundswell of negativity occurs, it’s nearly impossible to control. Your message, along with others, is forever preserved. Deleting a post is unlikely to save the day.

The brands I listed above are large and international, but never think the specialty fabrics industry—or any other industry—is immune.

The good news: prevention is possible, but takes diligent work. To ensure that you and your business are properly represented in social media space, the following tactics are recommended.

Create a strategy for each social media channel in which your company participates. This is the most critical step you can take to succeed in social media. Figure out why you want to be on a specific channel and what you expect to get out of it. Does it make good business sense to use social media? Setting goals around your business objectives is a must in the strategy phase. When promoting your business, you don’t rush into a new initiative without thinking it through. Social media is no different. It should be part of your overall business plan.

Education and training on all levels is necessary. From the newest employee to the CEO, each person should know about the social channels your company uses. Discuss which channels have been chosen and what purpose each one serves. Define who manages the company’s social channels, whether it is one internal employee or an external group. Awareness is an essential part of the process.

Education on the pros and cons of social media is a must for all employees. From the newbie to the resident social media guru in your company, sharing good and bad examples will keep employees knowledgeable about social media benefits and what can happen when things go amiss. Warn employees who have (what they believe are) private profiles about how they can become public property. When individuals put their real names behind their social presences, fewer social media transgressions tend to occur.

Set guidelines

Set rules and expectations for all employees who use social media. Your employees are an extension of your company: What they talk about in their personal lives can be used against an employer. Many companies consult with a legal team to establish a social media governance policy. If you don’t have access to a legal team, there are many examples of existing social media governance policies you can use as a framework. Read them thoroughly; these documents will need to be customized for your company.

Once your social governance policy is complete, distribute it to all employees, making sure everyone understands the guidelines and addressing any questions they may have. Keep in mind that some employees may consider this a form of censorship. Social governance policies are not about censorship or restricting employees from expressing themselves; they’re in place to help the company thrive in a dynamic space and protect its employees from saying things that could hurt the company and themselves. Sharing proprietary information, for example, could potentially destroy a company—and a career.

Establish channel guidelines for each social media channel. The work may appear to be redundant, but each channel operates differently. Communication on YouTube™ is not the same as communication on Twitter. Twitter is different from Facebook. Establishing guidelines for each channel is an important step in creating a professional social media presence. Some guidelines may come from the social governance policy you establish, and some may overlap from channel to channel.

Guidelines considered as universal:

  • Use proper etiquette when talking about your employer or when sharing an opinion.
  • Represent yourself. Being anonymous online gives the user a false feeling of invincibility and the belief that anything posted cannot be traced. You may be anonymous at the moment you post, but anonymity can vanish quickly. Never assume that your identity will remain hidden.
  • Think before you speak. What you say online or in social media is for most purposes permanent. Deleting a post no longer deletes what was said; screen-shots and articles allow for the best and the worst to have eternal digital life. If you wouldn’t say something in the office or on camera, don’t say it on social media.

If it goes bad

None of these rules is new to us; they all existed in the predigital world. Use etiquette. Represent yourself. Think before you speak. Most people are aware of the need to govern what they say in public, but typing something into a computer, tablet or phone, especially as a response to something else, seems to demand immediacy and emphasize emotion. Applying traditional rules in the digital communication age is a good general policy to keep your company and your employees in good repute.

Establish a crisis communication plan in case someone does not follow your established social governance policy and guidelines. Mistakes happen. Fortunately, we are a largely forgiving species. If you make such a mistake, address the issue quickly and directly, and most people will acknowledge that. A quick, sincere apology with a statement of how you’ll prevent the situation from happening again is a great first step to move on from a crisis. The longer you let an issue sit out there, the greater the opportunity it has to grow into a monster that may require more than an apology. That’s when jobs, and careers, come to be at risk.

If you’re planning to add social media to your marketing mix, the steps listed here can help you build on a solid platform. Even if you’re already well-versed in using social media strategies to advance your professional goals, now may be a good time to re-evaluate your plans and modify where needed. Social media and digital marketing techniques are always changing. What is acceptable in 2015 may become outdated in 2016, which will almost certainly bring additional changes to existing channels, and may create completely new ways to communicate digitally. Stay tuned!

Jason Douglas is a digital marketing professional, and was a speaker on social media tactics at IFAI Expo 2015.

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