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What pitfalls are there to avoid when considering a corporate strategy to disseminate information and drive traffic using employees social media.(e.g. require employees to use thunderclap to help promote new product releases)?

Can it be made opt-in/commission rewarded ($1.00 for every view generated by your link)?

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    You said "ask" in the title and "require" in the body. Which do you mean? And if you mean "require the use of personal resources for work", does it go the other way -- do you let them use company equipment and work time for personal goals? – Monica Cellio Oct 30 '13 at 16:31
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    Hi jth41, I removed the legal aspect of your question. Due to laws varying by jurisdiction and oftentimes getting very messy, such questions are off-topic. However, The Workplace Chat would be a great place to bounce ideas off folks with experience in that area to give you an idea on how you could approach learning more about laws in your area. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Nov 1 '13 at 2:16
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Are there any pitfalls to be wary of when asking employees to disseminate information and drive traffic using personal social media accounts?

Yes, there are two primary ones:

  1. An employee might insert social commentary, engage in horseplay, or participate in silly banter. Any of this could drive a wedge into your branding strategy.
    1. Consider what happened when a Chrysler employee opined on Detroit drivers.
  2. An employee might fumble the verbiage and confuse the message.
    1. Consider what happened when a Dr. Phil staffer tried to raise interest in an episode about teenage sexual assaults.

Note that both of the cited examples happened on branded Twitter accounts. The problem could be exacerbated if a company asked/expected employees to post on its behalf because the content would not be vetted by the public relations department.

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    +1 for citing actual situations where things go wrong. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oct 30 '13 at 13:53
  • They will not form the messages themselves. They will be auto-generated and posted by our software – jth41 Oct 30 '13 at 15:30
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    And also what happens if the employee leaves and takes the accounts with them this happened to Flight International recently. – Neuromancer Oct 30 '13 at 16:22
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    You bring up two valid points regarding branding, but leave off a discussion of ethics. I believe that the ethical implications of requiring personal social media activity far exceed any branding pitfalls. – Amish Programmer Oct 30 '13 at 20:45
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What you are suggesting is called Astroturfing. It is normally seen in a negative light. It can also cause resentment with your employees if they feel you are forcing your way onto their social presence.

The other issue you need to look at is, do you actually need every employee to post, and do they know how to react to possible responses.

It would be better to have a product evangelist who can promote your product and address issues raised. So you focus on the branding of that employee to present your message.

For the rest of the employees set up guidelines that if they write about the product on their personal blog/etc, that it is their personal opinion.

IBM actually did a study on this and created their IBM Social Computing Guidelines from it.

The book "Opting In: Lessons in Social Business from a Fortune 500 Product Manager" by Ed Brill goes into detail on how this was set up and lessons learnt. Chapter three, section "Representing the company" covers what you mention.

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The pitfalls are numerous and most company go out of there way to avoid this and keep professional and private life separate.

Most companies that I've work for spend a lot of time and effort to groom their public image towards the customer, media, press, scientific community, community etc. They have specific policies that forbid employees to act on "behalf or as a representative of the company" in social media unless specific authorization and training is provided.

This is just a perfectly normal and prudent precaution. For example saying something harmless like "I like model A better than model B" can easily tailspin into a Cnet report that claims "company XXX employees clearly prefer model A" and no one buys model B anymore even if that's what's better for the customer. You also want ONE consistent story out there and not 1000s losely related story that are probably partially contradicting.

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If an employee does not use social media (they don't have a facebook account, don't use twitter), you can't really require them to use their own social media accounts to promote the company. If they are required to create a new account, it probably won't do much good since it will have only been created just to promote the company and will exist in a very small social network.

If an employee has a social media account and they use it to promote your company, consider that there may be cases where you don't want to have your company associated with their social media account and the image it presents as it may reflect negatively on your company.

If an employee is required by corporate policy to promote their employer through their personal social media account, there's a good chance they may resent it and feel like they're being used as a cheap/free PR tool. This could backfire if they decided to subtly (or not so subtly) sabotage the promotional campaign. Or they might flat out refuse. This could cause bad feelings throughout the office if people are required to do this even if they don't want to.

Providing optional incentives for people might work, but you'd probably first want to make sure the employees are actually interested in this before starting up such a program. Otherwise, don't do it. Hire a proper PR/marketing team.

  • strangely my specific case is not really PR\Marketing but rather different, akin to sharing a SO question through your company because you want more people to see the question, therefore raising its view count and the possible number of answerers – jth41 Oct 30 '13 at 5:01
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    @jth41: So if I understand: you want employees to share a fellow employees SO question so that it might get an answer? Make promotion optional and give an incentive, maybe send an email saying "Hey all, jth41's got a tricky question on SO (URL Here). Could anyone post it on facebook/twitter/whatever so we can get more views? If we can get a quick answer, it will benefit the whole team because we can finish ProjectX on schedule" – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Oct 30 '13 at 5:04
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If your customers/clients/fans/etc are all following Joe Blow's personal social media account for your corporate cheer leading, you've made it almost impossible to fire Joe because when he leaves he'll take all the followers with him.

If Joe leaves on acrimonious terms the situation could be even worse; with his bad mouthing of your company being sent to all of your customers.

This has resulted in at least one lawsuit, with an ex-employer suing someone to take ownership of a Twitter account.

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