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Six Key Areas to Consider For Companies Engaging in Social Media

May 27, 2010


If you’re a company that has been convinced of the benefits of engaging in social media where do you start? (By the way, if you haven’t been convinced please read the Melcrum survey which outlines the measurable benefits). What do you need to consider? Which professionals do you need to engage? Where do you start?

Here’s how I would approach getting involved with social media, with the benefit of some hindsight.

There are six key areas to take into consideration:

1. Strategy

Strategy may sound obvious but it’s actually particularly important in this multifarious medium. What is your purpose? What do you want to gain or achieve out of using social media? Is it a sales tool or a means of disseminating information? Is it a method of engaging employees or customers (two very different purposes)? Are you simply wanting to track what is being said about your product or service or do you want to watch what your competitors are doing. Is it for advertising?  How does it complement existing strategies? What are you using social media for and why? And most importantly, who is going to take ownership of social media in your company? Is it the HR department or the Marketing department, the Sales department or the IT department?

Once you have a clearly defined strategy it will be much easier to approach the other areas of consideration.

Where do you go for help with strategy? There are many social media strategists around, all with varying degrees of expertise and experience in different industries. The best way to find a good social media strategist is to look around and find a company that’s obviously doing well in social media and ask who they used. A social media strategist is a great investment and will probably become part of your organisation on an ongoing basis, so make sure it’s someone you really enjoy having around. My other experience with social media strategists is that by their very interest in social media, they are really interesting, innovative and genuinely inspiring to have around. You’ll probably end up wanting to use them in other parts of your company just because they’re so full of great ideas.

2. Budget

Again, a budget sounds obvious but everyone will tell you at length that social media is FREE, but it’s not. It’s only free if you consider your time worthless because the expense involved is mainly time; if not yours, then someone elses. However, having said that, social media is time consuming to set up and get going but with some persistance and a steep learning curve you will find (free!) tools that help you reduce the amount of time required to manage it.

You will also need to budget for professional assistance – a strategist, a solicitor (more on that later), some PR, possible website upgrades or amendments and any time your employees engage in using social media.

3. Social Media Policy

Every organisation should have some kind of social media policy, even if they are not planning to actively engage in a social media strategy. Why? Read on:

As at March 2010 if Facebook were a country, it would be the world’s third most populated…with over 400,000,000 users.

Whether you know it or not some of your employees, many of your customers and your competitors, will be engaging in activities using social media. How do you protect your company from exposure in this vast, far reaching, medium?

A good, customised, social media policy can assist a company in protecting themselves from the many risks in engaging in social media. As well as incorporating legal “do’s and don’ts”  you should include some general guidelines on how the company expects employees to use social media.  I have written at length about this in previous blogs and you can now download a standard social media policy from our website. This is a risk management issue for companies – social media is well worth the engagement but you must consider the potential outcomes.

Where do you go for a social media policy? I would start with your strategist or HR department to write some good “touchy feely” guidelines that will provide a tone of encouragement for employees. I would then take it to your friendly Social Media Lawyer to put all the legals around it. A good lawyer should take your commercial strategy into consideration and incorporate these into the policy. Remember, a social media policy has two functions;

  1. To inform and guide your employees (along the lines of your strategy and company ethos)
  2. To protect your business, your customers and your employees from potential risk

4. Training

I can’t emphasise the importance of training enough. There is no point having a social media policy in place if nobody knows about it. Training is a huge opportunity to get your employees together and discuss social media and get them on side. Everyone of your employees is a potential PR person for your business – engage them, train them, encourage and reward them and you’ll find huge benefits in productivity. Also, your policy is a worthless piece of paper, if you end up in court not having conducted training. Regular training reduces the chances of unfair dismissal claims, reduces the chance of leaking confidential information and increases your ROI.

Where do you go for training? Good question! I’ve not see a lot of training being talked about (which concerns me) but we do run legal training sessions (including train the trainer) and I’m sure most social media strategists would be able to run or organise this service for you.

5. Monitoring

Most important. You need to know who is saying what about you and when. Otherwise, how do you prevent some horrible PR crisis damaging your company name or brand? Again, even if your company is not actively engaging in social media, some of your customers and competitors probably are.

There are some simple ways of monitoring what is being said about you in the social media space such as Google Alerts and search features in Twitter. At a minimum you should watch your company name, brand names and names of key employees, customers and competitors. Be aware that if you are going to monitor your employees, you must inform them first (preferably via your social media policy).

We have also found a great company that can do all of this for you, including some incredible metrics on conversations via geographical location. I’d highly recommend you look up Buzz Numbers and take a look at their comprehensive service.

6. Crisis Management

Most companies will hopefully not encounter a social media crisis. They are in fact few and far between and most companies have a very positive engagement with social media. However, you do need to have a plan in place in case disaster strikes. The way a social media crisis is handled in the first instance can determine whether it’s over and done with very quicly with very little collateral damage or whether all hell breaks loose and you end up with a virul negative information campaign.

In terms of crisis management, there are two considerations:

  1. Public relations – have a really good social media PR person set up a crisis management plan for you that can be implemented instantly if you encounter a problem.
  2. Legal – there will be legal considerations so enage a lawyer to be involved in step one and available should something go awry.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something – there’s so much to consider and I would really appreciate this being added to via comments.

  1. Stephenie Rodriguez permalink

    Great post. You articulated beautifullly points I make every single day.
    Stephenie R.
    @Digitalgodess on Twitter/linkedin

  2. kellybriefworld permalink

    I’m a consultant working with Palo Alto Networks; they have an excellent whitepaper on the subject of blocking social networking apps that you may have to worry about, “To Block or Not. Is that the question?” here: It has lots of insightful and useful information about identifying and controlling Enterprise 2.0 apps (Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc.) The new software they have created would make it so IT does not have to monitor their employees. Enjoy!

    • Hi Kelly, thanks for the comment and the link to the whitepaper which does make good reading. I’ve been thinking about how to respond, as the approach to social media seems to be very different from industry to industry and we are seeing a lot of “blocking” response from IT. The problem with this is that employees can still go home (or use their iphones at work) to engage in social media – this is an increasing trend, not something that will go away. It’s such a great opportunity to be collaborative with employees and I believe they can still be productive at work and have access to social media. What do you think?

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