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Wearing Your Company’s Social Media Seal-Of-Approval

by James Ball on December 18, 2009

Approved

After reading some great social media guidelines from companies like Intel, I began to wonder how some of these guidelines might impact the rest of us in our everyday work lives. It is clear that companies, big and small, are taking a more serious look at how factors such as real-time search and social media are having an impact on where and when their name might be showing up online. This is more than just a shift in how businesses are marketing themselves; it may indicate a shift in the relationships between employees and employers.

If you are @MarySmith on Twitter with 300 local followers (3 of whom are influential mommy-bloggers), and you work in accounting at Uber Widgets, all of a sudden what you say online is very important to the discussions up in the board room. Will your boss be a kinder, gentler human being? Not necessarily. I do expect that you’ll be served with a set of guidelines for your online behavior. If you hate your job and want to tweet about it, I’d imagine that having a link to your company’s website in your profile will be a no-no.

I’m not jumping on the “social media predictions for 2010” train here, but let’s do walk down the path a little. I see that companies, especially larger corporations, will come to the realization that they need to cultivate internal ambassadors. I’d also expect that there will be a desire to exercise some level of control over these appointed ambassadors.  These will be happy employees and executives who carry a positive message about their company’s brand. “Mary Smith, we’ve noticed that you like to talk about us over on Facebook, and we like what we see. “ Can you see where you might be called into a meeting and offered a facelift of all of your online identities from the IT and Art dept. guys? How about that fifty cent an hour raise?!

This is the frontline. Personal vs. business, is what you say online representative of you or your company, or both?  If you work for a smaller company, or a larger one with no clear set of guidelines, are you still accountable? Could you actually lose your job over something you say online? Yes you can, and it’s happening more and more every day. I’d love to see company’s putting more thought towards having a list of best-practices over a set of enforceable guidelines, I just don’t think we’re there just yet. Right now it looks more like damage control than innovative thinking to me.

Co-operation and shared best interests will be topics that share board room space alongside bottom lines and policy. Things are changing, and as crazy as it may seem to us all, honesty, trust, empathy, kindness, and being human play an even larger role in the future of doing business.

It’s quite a conundrum really…it’s also a delicate power struggle. I don’t foresee corporations throwing up their fists with a “damn the torpedoes” attitude over this. I also don’t see that everyday people will adjust well to the idea that their workplace may have a keen eye on the conversations that take place among their “private” contacts online. It’s ALL public anymore, and EVERYONE is coming to realize this…what to do?

*Update 12/20/09 Should also note this link here: Social Media Policies of 113 Organizations

I may be sticking my foot into something here, maybe not. What’s YOUR take? How do you see this working out in the near-future? Can we all get along?

@WholeMind December 18, 2009 at 3:52 pm

One of my alternate personalities deals with this sort of thing on a daily basis. I am deep into creating both an official social media policy and a set of guidelines with an employee training element.

Social media has stood large corporate marketing departments on their heads (whether they are aware of it yet or not). As they start to adjust to their new position and change the way they communicate as well as generate, qualify, and nurture leads, the entire organization will be affected.

James Ball December 18, 2009 at 4:17 pm

It's great to hear how others are adjusting. I love the sound of "an employee training element", your plan sounds well thought out! Policy violation would mean "you're fired"…Guidelines are great for "should you decide to participate and be a voice for us"…and Employee training would sound like "we're hosting a conference today to teach you about the ways that social media tools and channels have an impact on how business is done today". Thank you Mike!

@Brandon101 December 18, 2009 at 4:22 pm

Great topic James. I like where you were heading at the end of the post. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I believe there is going to be a much more open, accepting, and forgiving culture in business in terms of employee participation and personal behavior. We may have to go through some growing pains with this one, and some companies may clamp down too hard only to find that it has an adverse affect on their employee participation overall. My thinking is that if we are counseling companies to open up and participate in the conversation (including when it's less than pleasant), then they will also need to understand that their internal team needs to have this same freedom to express themselves.

As you said, I think it's important to teach best practices and perhaps have some basic guidelines, but avoid being heavy handed. It will take some time to get there, but I'd be willing to bet we'll see this start to emerge in 2010 with some progressive thought leaders at a few companies.

I LOVE your thoughts on the board room and how this type of conversation will ultimately have a seat at the table. In the end, the way business works is changing, and this is what excites me the most! Further to Mike's point, I think that social media has stood entire corporations on their heads, not just the marketing departments. Like he said, they may not know it yet, but they will eventually if they want to be around in 5 years.

Thanks for the discussion!

James Ball December 18, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Well it’s a discussion now Brandon! You mention being more open, accepting, and forgiving as a culture in business. I think that it should be pointed out here, that all of this is not JUST what’s happening to shape the way business is done, it does have a cultural impact as well. We are all responsible for the times we live in, responsible as well for our lack of trust and confidence in our fellow man. We ARE the fellow man. We are just as responsible for reshaping our future.

I don’t feel like it is willful at this point, but I do see larger organizations ceasing to frown as much upon the extended hands of friendship, be it from within or outside of themselves. I call it progress. If I could name the movement or adopt a slogan, I’d be first in line for a t-shirt! I appreciate you commenting here Brandon. It is always thought provoking and appreciated!

heathersebi December 18, 2009 at 9:35 pm

you said "influential mommy bloggers" —

Someday?

I'll still remember the little people though! 🙂

You're doing so well…I'm so proud of you.

So proud, I might go order a patter!

James Ball December 18, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Ha, well thank you Heather! You ARE in fact, an influential mommy blogger. I am motivated by your drive and consistency…which has helped me to stay consistent here. I'm honored when you drop in here and comment!

@smallbiztwit December 19, 2009 at 8:37 pm

Nice post- I agree that guidelines are better than policies. I work with folks to be innovative and creative and nothing stops that faster than fear or concerns- to get the biggest bang with using social tools a little of the wild west is needed. Social tools will cause business concept innovation in all areas of the business. The starting point is defining core values of the person, entity, or business and then defining the playground and its "guidelines".
With social tools in the mix- a capacity to first identify, then deconstruct and reconstruct business models lies at the heart of a high-performance innovation system. If the business is not experimenting with radically different business models( that are coming because of the social revolution),they are living on borrowed time…. Leadership and courage to look bigger than usual and opening up the "policies, rules" to " guidelines" is a great start……

Didn't get chance to say hi at #punkatl but will catch up with you in the near future..

James Ball December 19, 2009 at 9:13 pm

Less than 20 minutes ago I saw this tweet from @prp2: “The other day, I discovered a new social media policy w/ my employer that says we're not to identify ourselves as employees on here (or FB).” http://twitter.com/prp2/status/6838680786

I see this more and more as companies try to establish their role and strategy in social media. I think it’s natural to want to control and protect…I just don’t feel that heavy handed policy is the answer. I do think that flexibility will be paramount in a business’s success using social channels. You used “deconstruct and reconstruct business models”, I agree that this should be the norm until best practices and great guidelines/policies are more widely established and well known. I really appreciate you commenting here Steven. You are welcome here anytime, so don't be a stranger! I’m sorry I missed you the other evening, we’ll catch up soon!

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