A few days ago, I wrote a blog post on the importance of establishing a social media usage policy to clearly delineate how employees should and should not represent themselves and your business online. This type of clear communication is pivotal in maintaining your organization's overall public perception, which is irrefutably influenced by the online behaviors of your employees.
Once your company is on the same page regarding how they should represent themselves personally online, it's time to shift the focus to another equally important exercise: identifying how your branded social media accounts will be utilized.
It can be tempting to jump head first into social media with a "learn as you go" mentality, but the importance of planning cannot be overstated in this situation. In the same way that we outline protocol for handling press interactions, customer service requests, and advertising messaging, social media usage should be carefully managed to preserve our brand identity while expanding our reach.
Here are some key actions to take when creating a corporate social media policy:
Determine what platforms will be utilizedThere's no use optimizing content to master EdgeRank if your audience never embraced Facebook, and you shouldn't be spending hours pinning content if your buyer persona doesn't frequent Pinterest. Performing research to uncover which social networks your customers spend the most time on is an essential first step in effectively marketing to them, as it ensures you are effectively reaching those individuals. It's better to have a robust following and share relevant content on a handful of valuable platforms than struggle to maintain 30 mediocre accounts.
A word to the wise: Be flexible in considering new social networks. Although most companies embrace Facebook and Twitter as "no brainer" places to be, some are missing out on great potential by failing to consider building a presence on new networks. Keep an open mind and be willing to explore those new environments as they emerge.
Identify staff who will have access to accounts
In smaller companies, we often see social media passwords handed out to all employees as sharing duties are dispersed and everyone is encouraged to post on official accounts from time to time. Although this is great for including everyone in the social process, it's not a realistic way to preserve your brand's social safety.
We've all read the stories of explicit or unintended Tweets sent out by low level employees with ungated access to their company's account, which results in a lot of embarrassment for all parties involved. Remember the HMV fiasco? These things can't be 100% avoided, but we can certainly take precautions to minimize their potential of happening.
Depending on your company's size (and social media budget), you can establish levels of authority for posting online. For some, this can mean that every single update goes through several rungs on a chain of authority. For others, it simply means only giving a small group of individuals access to social accounts – and holding them accountable for any and all interactions.
Learn the difference between voice and tone
Whether it's Instagram or Facebook, any piece of content (no matter how brief) a company shares is a direct reflection of the brand. Prior to engaging in any sort of posting or conversing, your organization needs to identify its overall voice.
Voice refers to the consistent personality of the company, meaning it could be humorous, educational, helpful, etc.
Regardless of what voice you choose, it needs to clearly resonate in nearly every post on every platform. Social media interaction is meant to be fun and fast-paced, but it's no exception to the rule of consistency which applies to all other aspects of a brand.
In addition to your voice, you'll need to be willing to adapt to a different tone from time to time. Where voice is our overall identity, tone is our situational messaging. Even a whimsical brand must speak professionally when handling a disgruntled customer, just as even a B2B brand should be willing to inject humor or fun into their updates from time to time.
Create a style guide
As you will likely have multiple people regularly contributing to your social accounts, it's a good idea to establish standard practices to dictate how they should interact the account. This could be as specific as how many hashtags are allowed per day, or as general as whether or not to use slang. This article on Creative Bloq is really helpful for writing a guide if you've never done so before.
Establish guidelines for responding to sensitive issues
Many brands make the mistake of using tragedy, news, or controversy to boost their public visibility. I won't spend too much time telling you to avoid using these types of happenings as a sales opportunity (like many brands have) but I will state without trepidation that your organization should be prepared to handle them.
Epicurious recently responded to the tragic Boston Marathon bombings by attempting to push traffic to recipe pages via Twitter. (Thanks to BusinessInsider for the image)
I can forgive this misstep as is was likely no more than a failed attempt at blending voice and tone in the heat of the moment, but the subsequent backlash teaches us a valuable lesson about the importance of determining how your brand will respond to sensitive events.
Had Epicurious abided by a pre-established policy for partaking in this type of discussion, they could have avoided the need to issue countless apologies.
Clearly defining the identity, purpose, and expectations of your social media presence will pave path for employees to follow when posting from branded accounts. Ensure you're providing this type of guidance with clear communication and transparent intentions for staff, and you'll be well on your way to building a valuable online following.
Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/28288673@N07/4847679257/sizes/o/