Taking a strategic approach to social media

Whether it is a member of staff who has posted something on Facebook they live to regret or an irate chief executive demanding you get some negative comments about your organisation removed from a forum, social media is something we shouldn’t and can’t avoid.

The key to managing the negative and enhancing the positive however is by taking a strategic approach. You need to recognise that rather than adopting a scattergun approach look at how it can be implemented strategically to improve service delivery, enhance and protect your brand and engage with your customers and stakeholders. This approach requires time, planning and more importantly training for your staff in how to use it responsibly. Most importantly, it has to be underpinned by strong protocols.

It isn’t easy though, a simple search across the internet and you’ll find organisations that just ‘don’t get it’. They see this new craze called social media, have read the stories of Facebook having more followers than large countries and think ‘If we develop a site it’s a win win for us’. They then sit there wondering why the masses are not paying any attention to what they are doing. Equally there are plenty of examples where ill-informed staff have been caught out using social media as a forum for private discussions oblivious to the fact that the discussion they are having is public.

This isn’t meant to frighten anyone off as there are more examples of organisations improving their brand, reaching out to more customers and boosting profits through social media than there are high profile horror stories but it does need to be planned.

Here are some helpful tips i’ve put together that can help guide you through what can be a very complex journey to integrating social media into your business plan:

It needs to be a bespoke solution

A public sector organisation or a charity needs a different approach to a private enterprise. The size and complexity of the organisation will determine the approach it needs to take. For example, if it is a council how will it deal with issues around safeguarding if staff working with young people are using it. In the NHS how can you ensure patient confidentiality is not breached?

Reputation risks

How many examples have we seen recently of politicians and other national figures resorting to claims that their twitter accounts have been hacked when tweets they deleted are retweeted again and again before they are removed? Your
digital footprint is there for everyone to see – current and future employers,
peers, friends and family. As such you need to be careful what you say as it
may come back to haunt you one day. To an organisation this can be a blessing
if managed correctly as this positive PR can last for a long time but on the
flip side bad news can stick a long time after the issue was dealt with. As
part of the staff engagement and training around social media they need to be
made aware of the permanency of the damage caused by misuse – not just to them but their employers.

Focus on personal responsibility

What an individual posts on line is ultimately his or her responsibility. Privacy settings may not be as secure as people assume and developers reserve the right to modify their settings. At the end of the day although the damage to an organisation can be huge, ultimately the individual is responsible for what they say online and must be aware of that before they use it.

Do you want to be seen as representing your organisation?

I recently ran a discussion with some staff in a neighbourhoods service and someone who works in the crime and disorder team asked how it would be viewed if they commented on posts on Facebook on issues they knew a lot about through work. My response was that these responses can be very powerful, bringing a face to a corporate voice and should be encouraged. However, one thing that needs to be recognised is that by doing this they are in effect responding on behalf of their employers. They therefore need to ensure their employers are comfortable with that but more importantly that what they are saying is the organisation’s policy. By contradicting what may be a strategic decision with a comment that although correct may not have taken into context the overall position of the organisation they place themselves in a very difficult position. My advice in this sense is often keep your responses factual and do not bring conjecture into what you are saying. This can be very difficult to manage outside of the working hours.

It’s a two-way process

Social media is in essence a conversation. Whether it is limited in length by Twitter or a more lengthy blog it is about people sharing their views and their
knowledge. With this in mind an organisation has to recognise people using
social media for this purpose will not take kindly to you if you are using the
channel to spam them with press releases or sales patter. Just as irritating is
the rise in celebs using Twitter to endorse products they are paid to promote.
I’m sure many will get away with it but unless you are prepared for a backlash
use social media for what it is there for namely having a conversation with
your audience.

It isn’t cheap

One misconception is that social media is cheap – you can throw away your expensive marketing as this will get your message out there quickly and cheaply. This may be the case in many areas, for example where transactions can be transferred from costly face to face  to online. However, because it is two way and because it can be 24/7 it can be labour intensive to monitor and moderate. This doesn’t mean you have to recruit lots of people to respond, it simply means you may have to invest in retraining staff to think digital as part of their work.

Keep it legal

It goes without saying because of many of the issues above and because what you
publish online can be there for a long time, you really do need to ensure those
in your organisation who use it keep on the right side of the law. Don’t get
into a row with a competitior or a member of the public and certainly don’t
start offering your opinion on a matter that might be running through the courts.
The huge interest in high profile injunctions and the difficulty facing the
courts in enforcing them on social media sites shows just how difficult and
dangerous this area can be. Whilst the vast number of people commenting on the
footballer’s injunction made it difficult to enforce it may not be so difficult
if it is just a handful of people involved. Social media policies are as much about developing good digital ambassadors as they are about enforcing them. The most effective social media policies get the right balance between enforcement and encouragement.

If its sensitive leave it out

I read about a recent case of a man who got into difficulty with his NHS employers after he posted comments relating to people who had died in the hospital he worked. In a sense this epitomises the difficulty facing organisations. He had posted the comments in the evening on Twitter and it was picked up by a senior person where he worked. He wasn’t saying anything that wasn’t true and he only had a handful of followers most of which were friends. He was simply pointing out he’d had a rough day and why. However, because it was deemed he was damaging the reputation of where he worked and that it could have been picked up by the media he was disciplined. The lesson in this is that if you work in a sensitive environment or a position of authority be extra careful what you say as your words could be turned into something way bigger than was your
intention. As for confidential info such as patient info or legal info LEAVE IT

Finally…. use your common sense

It goes saying many of the horror stories we read about could be avoided with a
little common sense. If you work for an organisation and are visiting the city
where your head office is situated and where many of the company executives live don’t call it a dump. If you  are responsible for promoting a town don’t tweet that you will need to keep an  eye on your wallet due to the high risk of pickpockets. It is all about common  sense so use it!

In a nutshell here is a summary of the above:

  • Keep it legal
  • Keep it strategic
  • Don’t use anything that is confidential
  • Don’t get into a row
  • Expect a conversation and be able to process any actions
  • Think of your reputation
  • Use common sense!

And most of all…. plan how you are going to use social media. It can transform the way your organisation does things but it can also destroy you just as quickly.

If you need any advice on this drop me an email marc@redmoor-communications.co.uk

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