Employees who actively use social media can be a fantastic 24/7 dynamic marketing tool for companies. Employees can act as brand ambassadors, carriers of the torch, beacons of the USP and brand message. Many companies hire people to exclusively run the company social media profiles – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest; the exposure that businesses can achieve is infinite.
In truth, it can take months to produce a tight "on brand" social media campaign which adds value and emboldens the reputation of a business. It involves teams debating and discussing what they think the campaign should be and what would be the most effective hashtag. However, one second is all it takes to undo that hard work – a vocal employee, an ill-advised re-tweet, sharing something confidential, using an under-researched hashtag. The potential for a gaffe is forever present.
One only has to look to the world of sport: emotional athletes in pressure cooker environments are often the subject of social media scrutiny. Take, for example, Super Mario's racist meme (tweeted by Mario Balotelli); Richard Kilty's angry tweets around British Athletics – blaming others for a relay mistake and speaking out against foreign born British athletes; and Rio Ferdinand's re-tweet of a remark containing a racist term when referring to Ashley Cole. The hard truth is that Average Joe's social media profile can go viral in just the same way as that of a celebrity – even if the profile in question is part of a professional network. Proof of this is Alexander Carter-Silk's personal LinkedIn interactions with Charlotte Proudman which made both individuals and their respective social media accounts the talk of London – perhaps something he didn't expect when he sent his initial message. Clearly, the risk of public social media embarrassment is present in everyday life and in every company.
The question to answer is what can companies do to address this risk and ensure that they get the Facebook thumbs up?
From a basic marketing perspective, every company ought to have a clear idea of what it wants its message to be. Are you the one to watch for 2016? Are you trying to be pioneering in your industry? Are you the tried and tested service provider in this market? Marketing 101: it is one thing to talk the talk but it will soon catch you out if you cannot walk the walk – social media interaction is the easiest way to show if there is a disconnect between brand communication and brand reality.
Nowadays every company should have a social media policy and, to be most effective, it should be split into two parts. One part should allow the employee to understand what is appropriate for "work mode" and the other the employee to understand what is appropriate for "personal mode". Both parts should provide for what a person can say about the company and its partners. The policy should be regularly updated and easily accessible for employees – training employees on the consequences of poor decision making and refreshing understanding of what is and isn't acceptable is a must. The social media policy that is in place now will not be sufficient for the social media space in five years' time.
The policy should not be about policing employees but communicating the trust that exists between employer and employee. A small mistake ought not to lead to a large overreaction – panicking about what an interaction might do to the image of the company shows that you're not in control. Rather, a clear social media policy would allow the company to calmly assess how to respond from a PR perspective and, if necessary, would allow the company to distance itself from the gaffe and show that it has done what reasonably could be expected to train individuals on how to use social media.
Ultimately, social media is now engrained within society and in every industry. If companies can engage employees and third parties with an understanding of how they approach social media interactions, the potential value to be gained from effective social media use is enormous.