While many equate the use of social media to Generation Z and the Millennial generation, the reality is that businesses stand much to gain from the use of social media platforms. According to HootSuite, there are more than 3.8 billion active social media users, and having platforms that enable engagement and influence can be of great benefit to any business large or small.
While these platforms can enable brands to connect with ideal target buyers and customers, it will take more than just activating various channels and pushing content. To use social media most effectively, brands must ensure they have a process and approach to the management and use of social media lest they do more damage to their brand than good.
Here are a few suggested best practices I have seen brands use in the past and I highly recommend for brands that are using or desire to use social media for their business.
Have a Defined and Documented Social Media Policy
No matter if you are a small or large company, if you are going to use social media and have your employees use their various social platforms, you need to establish some governance. Not doing so leaves everything to the judgment of each individual, which can end badly and is a very risky proposition.
When establishing your corporate social media policy, begin with getting back to the purpose, mission, and vision of your company. If you do not know what these are or they have not yet been defined then you are putting the proverbial cart before the horse if you are trying to implement social media policies.
By starting with their purpose, mission, and vision, organisations will be able to define what values they hold, which then will be the basis by which they define their policy and what will be permitted by the brand name, whether it is the brand’s handle or employees of the brand.
Once your policy is in place you have a key foundational element.
Representing a brand on social media is far different from posting a selfie from a great family outing on a Saturday afternoon. This is why all employees need to be educated on the social media policies that are established, especially when those employees are tied to your company.
In essence, simply defining and documenting your policy is not enough. Employees need to be trained on the business use of social media, how to positively represent the brand, and what type of content and tone is permitted and what is not. This step is crucial as, whether you like it or not, your employees are your brand ambassadors.
A few years ago I was a part of a Twitter chat with a number of people debating the merits of a specific type of marketing software. I enjoyed the conversation and believed there was a good, healthy debate, with helpful information given. However, my perception of that exchange changed when a few weeks later I learned that one of the so-called “thought leaders” who was a part of the discussion was actually a sales representative for a software company that sold that specific kind of software. Rather than being upfront about who they were, they created another handle to “lend perspective” to the conversation. A very poor representation for the individual and the brand.
When you are going to use social media and encourage your employees to use it as a way to engage in dialogue, honesty and transparency is the best policy. Employees should identify themselves, should have no issues saying “I am a bit biased but in my experience…”, and have no reservations around identifying if they represent a certain organisation. Doing so enables all involved to get a clear picture of what is being said rather than feeling manipulated and feeling duped.
One rule that all businesses need to follow if they want to get the most value when using social media is transparency.
Get Your Executives On Board
An article in 2019 showed that 54% of Fortune 500 CEOs now have some kind of social media presence. The most startling thing about this statistic is that 46% of these executives do not have any!
With the mass appeal of social media and the array of platforms that we can use within the palm of our hands, all executives, no matter the size of the business, need to learn how to use social media effectively to speak, to promote their brands, to give perspective, etc. If your brand is going to use social media, I do not believe it is too much to ask that the executives jump on board and lead the effort.
Allow Some Expression
“Thoughts are my own.”
I have seen this statement on numerous social media profiles and I appreciate the disclaimer as it lets me know that the individual posting is sharing her or his own thoughts and opinions and at the same time it tells me that the companies they work for are ok with their employees expressing themselves even if it may be slightly controversial.
While I do believe it is good to have these disclaimers, brands should allow for expression within the boundaries of decorum and respectful discourse. Make this part of your training.
Social media platforms and their use is never going away. The more brands ignore the usage as a viable medium to connect with buyers either from the corporate level or individual level via their employees, the more risk they run in having a brand crisis. It is up to them to make it a constructive and valuable tool they can use. It just will take some planning, training and communication to get there.