I’ve been doing a lot of work on social media lately – for example, writing a book on it (about which I wasn’t going to tell you, but you forced it out of me). That’s how I came to be doing a talk on it recently.
Some of the usual questions turned up, and they all involve how to manage an identity online. A PR executive wanted to know: should they be advising their clients to Tweet (as in ‘go on Twitter and make announcements’) personally or as a business brand?
It’s a tricky one as the medium is so new. It’s impossible to imagine, for example, Richard Branson going online and not being assumed to be speaking on behalf of Virgin, even if he said he wasn’t.
What’s more serious, though, is the amount of companies finding that they’re already effectively Tweeting or blogging or whatever because someone in their organisation is doing it without their authorisation. This can happen in two ways. First a malicious employee or troublemaker can do it, in which case there’s usually a (tortuous) way around it.
The second way is more intractable. I was talking to an IT public relations manager whose company made, let’s say ‘gadgets’. Her problem was that some of the developers in the company were really enthusiastic. They’d blog about what they’d been working on – and end up telling any passing readers that there was a much better widget on the way, so there really wasn’t much point in buying the current one. She didn’t want to dampen the enthusiasm but there was a problem in how to manage the announcements for the company’s marketing schedule.
The answer is to think through what’s going to be acceptable and what’s not, and put a policy in place. There will be clear cut examples; nobody should expect to accept an employee repeatedly drunk in the pub wearing a company tee-shirt and assaulting people, and deliberately antisocial behaviour in cyberspace should be unacceptable too.
Greyer areas will be difficult. The blogger that pre-empts the company’s release schedule, albeit in their own time. The Tweeter who mentions an internal power struggle without being specific, but who’s so identified with the company that it’s obvious who they’re talking about.
It’s an evolving medium. I don’t have all the answers. Yet.
This is a guest-post from Guy Clapperton, a freelance journalist who has specialised in the small business arena for over a decade.