This is one of my favourite topics (and I’m only partly joking when I write that). In brief – to bring you up to speed – my thinking goes like this. Social media are channels of communication. As such, they represent an opportunity and a threat for brands, companies and organisations.
They can enhance and damage corporate reputation like any other channel of communication and, like any other channel of communication, because they are not ‘tame’ they can bite if mishandled. This is why every organisation needs a rigid social media policy, why corporate dealings with social media should be restricted to the professional communicators and trained spokespeople, and why everything should be approved so that the message – as far as possible – can be controlled. After all, that’s what we, as communicators, do.
Now (he sighed, wearily) there is an opposing viewpoint. And, in the spirit of balance and fair play, I give it a bit of an airing now and then. In my travels round t’internet, stuff tends to stick to me (such is the nature of the beast) and I find myself receiving all sorts of bits and bobs, like souvenirs from the places I’ve been. In the last couple of days I received this and it’s only now that I’ve got round to reading it.
This is a very prevalent school of thought in the US. Corporate dealings with social media should be, to all intents and purposes, unregulated and unapproved. We should trust our employees, whoever and wherever, to post on behalf of the brand, company or organisation. In fairness, this post talks about those within the organisation responsible for handling social media – so it’s not a free for all that’s being recommended (which is a relief and a definite development of the argument from where it was a month and a half ago) – but it still talks about people who can speak on behalf of the organisation without getting approvals.
As far as I’m concerned, no-one speaks on behalf of the organisation without – at some point – having had their messages approved. No-one makes off-the-cuff remarks – the company’s reputation is far too valuable and the result of far too much effort for it to be jeopardised by unrehearsed commentary.
So potentially what we have here is a question of what constitutes approval. And what is, generally, being posted to social media. I agree, if you’re answering a customer query on the price of one of your products, then as long as you’re polite, and the information’s correct, you don’t need a formal approval to post it on Facebook.
But, all too often, social media throw up questions that aren’t about price, or opening hours or other anodyne stuff. (As most of this information is/should be available on your website.) No – social media either throws up people with Tourette’s, or protest groups, or litigants, or questions about matters that either are not up for discussion, or require a ‘corporate’ response. All of this stuff needs to be approved. So that everyone knows what’s being said and – if they’re asked – knows what the response is.
And if you’re in a situation where some stuff needs approval and some doesn’t – sorry – it all needs approval. This is the only way of ensuring that nothing slips through the net. Yes, it’s time-consuming, no it’s not as ‘free-to-air’ as some would like, but hey – busines isn’t a democracy or a commune. It’s a process whereby people make money from other people.
And I completely disagree – approved responses do not equivalent to ‘canned’ PR messages. And I also disagree that there is some Utopia being created where people want to have relationships with the people who work within organisations.
No. They don’t. They want their cereal, or soap, or computer, or socks – they want the item or service at a fair price, delivered in a polite and timely fashion and they want to be reassured that it is not responsible for the deaths of babies and that it’s not made from toxic waste. Occasionally they want some free stuff. Mostly, however, the vast majority of these people – myself included – want to pay our money, take our choice and be left alone to consume our item in private. Thanks a heap.