As soon as news leaked through a corporate memo that ESPN was going to regulate their employee’s free use of social networking sites like Twitter, the social media community sounded off their collective disapproval. “Dear ESPN—You’re Doing it Wrong” was the title of social media expert Chris Brogan’s blog post on the subject, which alluded to his dissatisfaction with the network’s decision to force employees to refrain from using sites like Twitter “for anything but ESPN-specific stuff.” Brogan continued to write that ESPN’s policies do not reflect “how relationship-building goes in the social web.” And many others agreed. We can only assume that this action by ESPN was an attempt by them to safeguard their brand.
So where did ESPN go wrong, and how could they have handled the situation differently?
First, the issue. The lines between personal and corporate social media use have been blurring since the first person realized that social media could impact business. As companies are encouraging employees to Tweet, post, and comment on their behalf, many are finding that those same employees are having a difficult time separating their personal lives from their company’s corporate marketing objectives. This often leads to damaging content (mainly by association) being posted in public forums by uninformed staff. This is where the issue lies for many corporations.
So here’s where I think ESPN “didn’t get the memo.”
Implementing a corporate social media protocol is not just providing a set of rules for your employees about social media usage. Rather than discouraging personal social media use, you should actually determine the types of online interactions from employees that could actually serve to benefit your brand, even if they have little to nothing to do with your company. And you must also clearly explain your objectives for encouraging your staff to use social media on your organization’s behalf and repeatedly remind them of this motive (i.e. it is ok to employees to add an appropriate level of individualism to online communications as long as it reflects your brands personality). When your employees fully comprehend why you are encouraging them to utilize social media on your organizations behalf there is less of a risk of them damaging your brand.
As you, as marketers, realize your individual measures of success (leads, web traffic, mentions, etc.), you must clearly map out a social media strategy to ensure that you (and everyone involved in your corporate social media initiatives) reach those goals. It is this strategy that must be stamped on the collective corporate conscience like a brand mission or statement.
The bottom line: If you want employees to continuously engage with social media on your organization’s behalf, make sure you consistently remind them of your corporate social media marketing objectives. This will help ensure you reach your marketing goals while helping to avoid any social media pitfalls.