Many B2B enterprises struggle with just how open they want to be on their social media and with their online presence in general. With the flourishes of seemingly trivial what I had for breakfast conversation mixed with the make you blush too much information (TMI) splashes, a reasonable reaction might be to close ranks and pull back entirely.
I encourage you to resist that temptation. Yes, it’s fair to know that some companies have found their level of interaction can backfire. I get that overly casual and TMI interactions are not what you envision you and your staff doing. Fine, no problem. The whole idea is that we want to be smart and effective in B2B social media interactions. This is the given assumption we’ll make as we work to shape a sound policy.
As an overall societal mindset, the trend is moving toward more disclosure, transparency and openness. There is a reason why younger people disclose so much – it’s not that big of a deal to them. They talk about sex, religion, and politics, formerly taboo subjects for mixed company conversation. It’s a generational difference that, again, is not going away. Even if you are not personally that comfortable with it, your employees probably are. Leveraging the zeitgeist to your advantage is a very smart thing to do, so in a word, do what you can to get over it. Your demonstrated leadership in this arena will not only show you’re watching but that you aren’t a prehistoric dinosaur who doesn’t know a google from an emoticon.
So, what are the advantages of embarking on this sometimes challenging issue of developing an effective social media policy? The short answer is because it isn’t going away. Social media is now a part of the landscape of business and personal engagement.. Your employees are likely using it, perhaps on company time. You’ve probably used it to find a coupon for a local restaurant, connect with friends and colleagues, and see pictures of your grand kids (also on company time?).
The mice will play while the cat’s away, so clearly establishing boundaries on appropriate actions, especially while representing the company, is crucial. Navigating your way through where you and your company policy is going to take a stand on social openness is an honorable and much needed conversation. Even in compliance constricted and heavily regulated industries, you can find the middle ground that works for you.
Another point can be summed up in one word – Wikileaks. To imagine that much of anything will remain secret is to ignore the obvious. The worse news is that the effort to cover up or spin the disclosure of the information impacts your reputation too, in addition to the impact of whatever information is revealed. It can get ugly and it can seriously hurt your profits. It’s much better to be in front of that maelstrom with proactive social media policies and procedures. This will help you soften the impact and even leverage the situation to your advantage. You will come out better in the end.
So what’s the answer? Be more open! Reconsider what actually has to be secret (medical histories and attorney/client privilege for example). Examine every aspect of your business and reveal all you can. If what you find is painful, embarrassing, and wrong, clean house and fix the problem. More often you will find talented people doing great work who will love being noticed. Everyone likes to be seen so morale will improve. And, nearly everyone uses the internet for research and pre-purchase decision making. so share lots of information with your client, supplier, and investor base.
Where can you start? You can leverage your “secret” processes as an exemplary industry example of how to do business right. You can have a transparent salary structure and promotion guidelines. You can create customer service practices that allow customers to know exactly what to expect and when and then monitor the follow up so it gets done well. You can encourage and allow dissenting opinions to be expressed and use them as creative grist for the product development view.
Ultimately, I’d suggest that you listen and see what people say and build off that. And, in every way you can, simply be more open. Begin building your policy from that point of view.
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