#11 Social media can help or hurt; it’s all about how you use it

Social media, particularly as they relate to your business or your organization, was the topic of today’s big blogcast on Gone to Texas with Nelson Duffle of the Duffle Group.  And by social media, we are talking about such places as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Blog Talk Radio, to name just a few of the growing list of social media sites available to businesses, organizations, government agencies, and you and me.

I pulled up a blog by Brian Solis at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm. Solis calls himself a digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist who, like Nelson Duffle, helps businesses build and measure success with social media.

Solis sites a report from 2010 that used data collected from 34,000 businesses in 35 countries to determine that three-fourths of employers did not have a formal policy on how and when employees could use social media, or social networking, while on the job.

I bring this up, because this hints at something Nelson and I discussed, and that is whether every business needs to have a social media presence.

In my experience, bosses at small and large organizations and businesses all want to be in the social media mix.  They may not know how to friend someone on Facebook or how to tweet on Twitter, but they want to be able to say that their organization is just as hip as everyone else.

If, indeed, that is the case then to me the obvious question is: why is there a need to have a formal policy governing the surfing of social networks by employees on the clock?  That seems to be at cross purposes with the whole idea of social networking, a 24/7 siren that beckons both the willing and the unsuspecting sailors of the cyber seas.

Anyway, Solis goes on to suggest that businesses should provide training and guidelines to employees to help excel on behalf of their employers.

According to the study, 63 percent of employers that had such policies found the productivity of their workers improved.  And, more than a third reported that social media policies helped protect intellectual property.

Solis says social media represents the democratization of information and the equalization of influence, which creates both challenges and opportunities.  As he points out, anyone can create, publish, and distribute ideas, observations, news, and information.  Kinda just like we do on Gone to Texas on Blog Talk Radio. Content, he points out, travels around the world through myriad connected channels and people faster than the time it took you to hear or read this sentence.

And, of course, these same CEOs who insist on being part of the cyber social network want to do it on the cheap.  That is precisely why bosses assign this supposedly essential function of online branding to whom? To the most junior employees, or even to unpaid interns.

Solis says this is because brand managers believe these twinterns are the only employees who understand how to use Twitter and Facebook, and, therefore, should be the  people who control the fate of the brand they represent.

Let me give you a perfect example from here in Houston. MD Anderson, arguably the world’s premiere cancer treatment and research hospital this week posted for a Digital and New Media Communications Assistant “responsible for supporting the External Communications team and internal clients in the development and distribution of materials on MD Anderson’s digital and social media channels, specifically online multimedia communications (audio and video) and digital (web and e-mail) content, and for assisting with media relations activities . . . Support and train faculty and staff in social media project development. Build positive relationships with digital/social media influencers.”

Experience required: “None.”

Solis apparently shares my disbelief in this idea.  He says that for businesses to maximize the opportunities of social networks, they must place this function in the hands of employees qualified and trained to set up and run the social networks effectively and strategically.

Here’s his list of his Top 25 Best Practices for Drafting Policies and Guidelines

1. Define a voice and persona representative of the brand’s purpose, mission, and characteristics

2. People expect to interact with people, be personable, consistent, and helpful

3. Keep things conversational as it applies to portraying and reinforcing the personality and value of your brand and the brand you represent

4. Add value to each engagement — contribute to the stature and legacy of the brand

5. Respect those whom you’re engaging and also respect the forum in which you participate

6. Ensure that you honor copyrights and practice and promote fair use of applicable content

7. Protect confidential and proprietary information

8. Business accounts are no place to share personal views unless they reinforce the brand values and are done according to the guidelines and code of conduct

9. Be transparent and be human yes, but also do so based on true value propositions and solutions

10. Represent what you should represent and do not overstep your bounds without prior approval

11. Know and operate within the boundaries defined, doing so protects you, the company, and the people with whom you’re hoping to connect

12. Know when to walk away. Don’t engage trolls or fall into conversational traps

13. Stay on message, on point and on track with the goals of your role and its impact to the real world business in which you contribute

14. Don’t trash competition, spotlight points of differentiation and value

15. Apologize where applicable and according to the established code of conduct. Seek approval by legal or management where such action is not pre-defined

16. Take accountability for your actions and offer no excuses

17. Know whom you’re taking to and what they’re seeking

18. Disclose relationships, representation, affiliation and intentions

19. Refer open issues or questions to those most qualified to answer

20. Practice self-restraint, some things are not worth sharing

21. Empower qualified spokespersons to offer solutions and resolutions

22. Seek the approval of customers and partners before spotlighting their case studies

23. Take the time to interpret the context of a situation before jumping in with a response

24. What you share can and will be used against you – The internet as a long memory

25. When in doubt, ask for guidance

A Twitter code of conduct is the title of a Business Week article on managing content. The basic rule: Don’t be stupid.

Here’s a list of links to the social media guidelines of private and public businesses, organizations, and universities.

People wanting to share the details of their every-day lives with friends and strangers, and businesses wanting to promote their brands to current and potential customers or clients, are not the only folks using social media.  Political parties and governments use, and sometimes abuse, social networks as pointed out in a recent article in The New York Times: Ethical Quandary for Social Sites.

The article points out that activists and pro-democracy groups, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, use Flickr, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to promote their activities. And these political or regime-changing uses have put these social media companies in the uncomfortable position of trying to appear neutral and above the political fray while at the same time providing global platforms for these activities.

Some countries, such as Cuba, impose severe penalties for people who use or who help others use social media.

A Reuters story today reports on the visit to Cuba by former president Jimmy Carter who wants to get the Cuban government to release U.S. aid contractor Alan Gross, sentenced this month to a 15-year prison term after his conviction of acts against the state.  Gross was a private contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development providing Jewish communities in Havana with Internet access without the consent of the Cuban government.

And that brings us to our guest today, my friend and former TV news colleague, Nelson Duffle of the Duffle Group, which provides marketing plan audits, social media, business writing and communication strategies.

Before finding some honest work in marketing about 25 years ago, Nelson worked as a triple threat journalist (TV, radio and newspaper) for more than a decade.  In fact, we worked together at a television station in Austin, Texas, in the early ‘80s.
His background includes work with large corporations (including Fortune 500 firms) such as Fidelity Investments, Apple, Shell Oil, Kaiser Permanente, General Motors, Campbell Soup, and Merck Pharmaceuticals.

In 1997, he founded the award-winning Duffle Group based in Boston and Washington, D.C., and for the past 14 years has been providing strategic marketing audits and training to CEOs and CMOs.

Most recently, he has been consulting with SMBs (Small-to-medium-sized businesses) about the benefits and pitfalls of Social Media Marketing.

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About John David Powell

John David Powell - Gone To Texas is a daily blogcast from ShadeyHill Ranch carried exclusively on Blog Talk Radio at www.blogtalkradio.com/johndavidpowell. We feature discussion of events in Texas and the world hosted by multiple Lone Star Award-winning journalist and author with 5 decades of news and broadcasting experience.
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