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4 Lessons from the White House for Brands With Tweeting Employees

ImageAs the debate over Obama's Affordable Healthcare Act and the troubled rollout of the website continues, one thing is certain: The White House has deemed Twitter as a valuable resource in fighting the PR battle and there's a lot to be learned from their implementation.

As a recent Reuters article suggested:

"Under a strategy championed by Obama's senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, the White House has doubled its footprint on Twitter since July, giving official accounts on the social media web site to more than a dozen additional communications staffers. The White House's Twitter army is the lead player in an intense war of messaging on social media in Washington, a conflict that also involves a range of lawmakers, bureaucrats, conservatives and liberals."

Of course, both of Obama's presidential campaigns have widely been held up as innovative, thanks partially to their crucial use of social media in galvanizing an active fan base. It's easy to understand how @BarackObama (who signs personal tweets with a "-bo") has gained $39 million followers and how he made the most retweeted tweet ever, but the Obama team Twitter strategy is more far-reaching than that.

In addition to the official @WhiteHouse Twitter account and other organization accounts not connected to any one personality, multiple personal staff Twitter accounts have been created in the last year. The administration has realized that Twitter is a faster means of communication than anything else out there. And considering the amount of value the 24-hour news networks put on being first (just look at Shepard Smith's fancy new FOX News Twitter screen), those 140-character messages are then hugely amplified by a hungry traditional news media.

There are four important lessons here for any brand that's looking to amplify its message using employees' social media accounts:

1. Personalized Twitter accounts can be more effective than corporate ones.

According to the article, the White House has used its personal Twitter accounts to engage in conversation and "correct" reporters' and Republican aides' storylines during the lifecycle of a particular issue. Brands can do the same thing with Twitter when misinformation starts to spread about their company. Imagine what would happen if a business had a whole fleet of employees using Twitter who could speak personally about a potential company crisis instead of through some faceless corporate account? Sometimes, socially active employees can be your best brand advocates.

2. Smart, engaged employees are valuable -- but so is a solid social media policy.

Even if a company encourages employees to disseminate brand-approved messages while putting their own personal stamp on them, there's still a certain amount of risk involved. Heavily regulated industries (like financial) already understand the challenges of creating a social media policy and putting together an efficient compliance program and approval process for corporate communication. Defining your values and establishing your voice should be step number one and two so that your employees can instinctively follow suit. But you'll still need thorough guidelines on what is acceptable and unacceptable content and be able to remind your employees regularly through actions and words.

3. Being funny is important, but be prepared for the worst.

It's always good to have a sense of humor and be a conduit for great, informative content. If your employees are happy, that feeling will manifest itself through Twitter and result in plenty of earned trust. But in the most recent example of former White House National Security Council staffer Jofi Joseph -- who tweeted secretly as the snippy @NatSecWonk and was dismissed once his identity was revealed -- anything can happen. And in the case of the above tweet, Joseph wasn't even funny so much as he was just plain insulting.

4. There is no substitute for organically built trust.

The hope is this: If you have built real trust in your employees and your brand advocates, they will be there for you when the proverbial sh*t hits the fan and everything seems dark and gloomy.  (Here's a great example of that.)  If your employees are consistently sharing resonant, long-form stories about your company over time, that will deepen brand affinity and hopefully outweigh the negative effects of one bad apple.

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