Corporate Social Media: Do you have a policy?

More and more brands are getting into Social Media these days here in the Middle East, and save for a few well organized ones, I've mostly seen fairly disjointed, unstructured, unplanned efforts. There seems to be a lack of social media policy. Which I just don't understand. Companies have a marketing policy, a marketing budget, a plan, so why don't they have a similar approach when it comes to drafting a simple, easy to follow, across-the-board social policy?

Brands are slowly getting to understand social. They're genetically used to shouting, not listening, not participating, not paying attention – but rather preaching the corporate gospel from a soap box. And their agencies have helped them along, providing louder voices to shout at customers, at consumers, to make themselves heard.

First of all, no one really knows today, who owns the social space. So, there seems to be a free for all atmosphere. Whether having a simple guideline on what's ok, what's not for employee social behavior (when it comes to corporate tagged social), or a fully documented policy paper coming out of marketing / corporate communications, it is increasingly a requirement that there are certain standards that are followed. There ought to be a corporate language and tone of voice, (and I don't mean language in the literal sense). There ought to be a common approach to the consumer, to the competition, to customer service, to beating the drum, or whatever is being done in the social sphere. Companies, brands, product divisions, agencies – all need to sing off a common song sheet, and this policy is crucial to maintaining an 'identity'. And, it's particularly relevant when an outsourced consultant or freelancer handles a company's social voice. That voice needs to be one voice.

Social voice is usually an extension of company culture, and there needs to be a strategy behind voicing and sharing that culture whether proactively or in relation to social voice out there. This is about responsibility and self control. It's about being able to judge crucially before a facebook update, a like, a tweet and a foursquare update (I'm at the F1 Super Deluxe Paddock Lounge' tweet or foursquare update when the company has just announced a economy drive is plain stupid).

After all, one needs to understand that several people from one company are voicing on social, each one thinks differently, each one has a different sentiment, but those are personal. If one has opened up their personal space and tagged it with a corporate identity, than that sentiment needs to be in line with corporate sentiment, corporate vision and mission.

Having a clear cut policy is not difficult. One needs to have a clear cut understanding of objectives that the 'company' has. These may be different from personal objectives, and in that case, one needs to define the fine line and cross over to corporate territory and safeguard it. One needs to understand different departmental goals. Different product managers have different goals. The CEO may say something that is totally big picture, while the product buyer, the art director, the front desk person may say something totally out of sync. This is where a policy helps.

Most corporate driven social voice out there in this region seems driven by brand, and the peripheral, the conversations around the product, the benefit, the lifestyle driven ones are ignored. This is a no-no. Policy should cover peripheral social voice. Policy should cover short term vs long term. So, if I work at a automotive dealership, my tweets on speed cameras, for example, ideally come under policy, because, while they're not about the new GT model on the showroom floor, they're somehow inter related. That's social. And that's why we need to have someone draft broad guidelines, without stepping on our freedom of social speech.

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