Friday, November 28, 2008

Incorporating Legislation into the Social Media

I have often discussed the importance of engraining social media into the organisational culture. By creating an openly social culture in which employees are encouraged to participate, the organization facilitates the customer perception of the organization as human. Clearly this will help the organization to realise it's goals of transparently engaging with the customer whilst allowing the workforce to address any organisational concerns that they feel require consideration. Yet despite the benefits that the social media can bring to an organization, simple limitations must be observed in order to recognize the greatest gain. The exclusion of rules in their entirety will invariably lead to pandemonium, the result being a conversational mess that offers little value to anyone.

Essentially there are three sets of limitations that should be enforced to ensure clarity of purpose. These are language limitations, behavioural limitations, and content limitations. Whilst the specifics will invariably differ from organisation to organisation, the logic runs constant.

Language limitations concern the language that you would consider appropriate for association with your organization. Course language will almost certainly be poorly received by your customers, and as such should be avoided. Whilst technical terms should be accepted, the organization may consider making a glossary of terms easily available to those seeking further insight. Finally, spelling and grammatical errors should not be condemned. These allow the content to be recognized as human, and will as a corollary result in higher levels of perceived transparency. This is important for ensuring that customers engage with the content.

Behavioural limitations should be imposed to ensure that the workforce engage with the customer responsibly. Such limitations may include discouraging employees from posting derogatory remarks about colleagues, customers or competitors. Whilst somewhat more radical, your organization may decide to encourage employees to post content detailing their concerns regarding the organisation's products or practices. Whilst this recommendation will invariably be poorly received by many an organization, if carried out effectively, organizational transparency is once again demonstrated. Consider how you would expect your employees to behave offline and use this as the basis for behavioural limitations.

Finally content limitations concern any content that employees must be forbidden from publically expressing without prior consent. Such content would most notably include trade secrets, and any other confidential information that is not publically available. Whilst many may argue that such actions do not represent a transparent approach to the social media, I would disagree. There will invariably remain information that must remain confidential in order for the organization to remain competitive. It is up to you to establish what information should and should not be conveyed, and to ensure they these limitations are adequately brought to the attention of the workforce.

These 'rules of engagement' are hardly controversial, with little deviation from how employees would be expected to engage with the customer in the physical world. The incorporation of internal legislation such as that described here will allow the workforce to willingly participate in the social media, safe in the knowledge that their organization encourages customer engagement. Clearly organisational specifics will vary from one company to the next. As such, the list of recommendations made above is not exhaustive. A note of caution however; overly regulating the process will invariably result in confusion. Lengthy engagement legislation will cause the process to become restrictive, the transparency of the content will become jeopardized and employees will be deterred from participating therein. Make sure that you don't fall into this trap...

Always remember that there is a fine line between using internal legislation as a means of preventing conversational pandemonium and influencing content to the point at which it is perceived as 'manufactured'. Make sure that your organization doesn't exceed this point.

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