Increasingly, organizations are terrified of the specter of employees on social media. What could go wrong? How can they protect themselves?
Despite even my own words of caution in my recent Forbes.com column, Can An Employee's Tweet Land An Employer In Court? I can attest that with a few preparatory steps, not only can organizations alleviate most risk, they can turn their employees' social media activities into branding benefits and revenue gold.
A global law firm Proskauer Rose LLP recently completed the third of its annual studies on social media as it pertains to employers and law. The study is far from comprehensive -in a field of 5,000 invited participants, this data is based on the responses of just 110. But here is what they discovered: Of the 110 companies that responded
- 78 companies took precautions against misrepresenting the views of the business.
- 74 took precaution against "inappropriate nonbusiness use"
- 70 took precautions against employees making disparaging remarks about other employees or the business or employees (an area in which companies need to proceed with care to be legal, according to International Law News)
So it's clear there need to be social media ground rules, and thankfully the majority of organizations are taking positive steps. But what can they do to turn this prospective risk into a great opportunity? We can sum it up in two steps:
1) A social media policy that combines the input of legal and HR with social media expertise to give employees a clear understanding of what they can and can't do on social media on company time (and even on their own time). The policy should provide full education of the reasons for guidelines, and the ramifications of violating these rules. Employees should confirm by signed agreement that they understand and commit to the policy as well. With this forethought, education and commitment in place, companies can move to the greater potential of social media on the job-the emerging realm of employee advocacy.
2) Employee advocacy provides willing and qualified employees with additional education and guidelines to act as thought leaders and brand advocates on the organization's behalf. This is not a function of using employees as thinly veiled "shills"-it is a chance for employees to gain additional skills, visibility, and promotability within the organization (or any future organization). Employees learn to present, to blog, and to communicate more effectively in a way that also amplifies the company's branding messages many fold. Research by my own organization, Everyonesocial.com, shows that an organization of 1250 can (among other things) increase revenue by 19% and an earned media advertising value of $1.2M.
Why are these advantages so great? With a properly managed employee advocacy program, the messages are, quite simply, consistent and consistently amplified. These benefits are simple math. But beyond this benefit, the companies who maximize their employees' use of social media are increasingly gaining an "X factor" benefit as well-the employees who choose to advocate on their companies' behalves become more capable themselves better. Some call it the Service-Profit Chain and have researched and documented the connection from employee loyalty to excellence in customer service to customer loyalty and ultimately to profit.
I prefer to call it the "Cycle of Love." But in any respect, the education, involvement and advancement of employees in a company's social media programs is a virtuous cycle in which everyone wins.
In summary, today's organizations shouldn't fear the prospect of their employees on social media. Instead, they should provide employees with the right level of social media tools and education to allow both the employees and their organizations to succeed.