Aug 042011

Your employees define their social networks, your control mechanisms and policies don't

Can you really rein in what’s said or written about your company? Do you use policies to enforce the rules? Do you still think social media is a fad?

Last week, I read a post by Klint Finley titled “Study: Execs Aren’t Yet Sure What to do About Social Media.” It is a nice, short article, so I won’t mind if you jump over and skim it through before coming back here…

If it is true that these executives “aren’t yet sure what to do”…

  • Perhaps they are working on (thinking through) an answer…
  • Or perhaps they have efforts underway and are testing them out to see what will be most effective

If they are not, they may not have an answer for the main question of this post.

This may sound harsh, but given the Internet “familiarity-without-practice-maturity” of the average person/employee today, to simply avoid thinking about this question is just not responsible.

Survey says…

Klint reported on a Capgemini survey that said 64% of executives put the responsibility for social media totally in the hands of marketing departments. 74% seemed aloof about how many employees used social media for customer care.

He also reported that 13% of executives think that social media is a fad.

For those of us who live and work with Internet and cloud technologies every day, an awful lot of interaction on the social web happens outside our marketing or customer service activities… like this blog post!

My own LinkedIn network map, now at 812 of my "closest friends"

We cannot be indifferent, reticent or pretend that either a marketing department, an IT department or even formal policies can “control” our social identities.

In the strategic action of “reading the world” (which is not the domain for marketers alone) executives (and leaders in general) are obligated to make interpretations about the meaning – the effects, consequences and relationships – of new technologies and trends on their organizations and the actions to take.

Now, deciding that all this social media stuff is irrelevant is one possible answer – not an answer that I share personally, but it might work out OK in your view of the world.

That decision would not be irresponsible, it just might be ineffective and lack power (again, in my assessment but perhaps not in yours).

Obligations and responsibilities

To call yourself responsible is to declare that you are the cause of an outcome. To know for a fact that each of your employees can go home at night to Google+, Twitter and the blogosphere is to know reasonably well the social web identity of your organization is not fully in the hands of marketing or IT.

Of course, that is not to mention that they could have gone straight to the web on their phone. Policies can help, but you can’t manage demand beyond a point.

So set up your policies, set up a group to decide the kind of online identity you want to produce and support, and invest resources into the team or person whom you entrust to make it so… but don’t blow off the obligation to think about everyone else who is part of your online identity.

Help them to know what a great brand you are building, help them to see how they can fit into that and how they can impact market perceptions – make them brand ambassadors, but don’t ignore that they can have a great positive (or negative) impact on the web.

Be responsible and not passive, and declare yourself a cause of the positive outcome you want.

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