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2/10/2012
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Help Your Business Avoid Social TMI

TMI, or too much information, can sink ships--or careers. Businesses need to learn how to balance promotion, education, and safety when working with social media.

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Media mogul Rupert Murdoch joined Twitter this past New Year’s Eve. By New Year’s Day, he had already deleted his first tweet --something about Brits having too many holidays for a “broke country." Murdoch’s very early course-correction shows how easy it is to make social missteps, and the slew of stories and blog posts that followed show how impactful even the most offhand remark can be. As organizations expand their communications, advertising, and customer service presence on social networks and as company executives raise their social profiles, they will need to increase their attention and resources to managing the message--and the messengers.

One of the most difficult challenges, say experts, is balancing interest with safety. “The issue of loose-lipped executives is nothing new; years of media policies and compliance departments, however, have resulted in untimely, watered-down messaging that hardly resonates with a company's audience,” said Jake Wengroff, global director, social media strategy and research, Frost & Sullivan.

Indeed, no one wants to read--much less share--tweets or Facebook updates that appear days after the fact and are clearly the result of multiple rounds of edits and OKs by every department from communications to legal. But on the other hand, no one wants to find themselves in the middle of a PR nightmare as the result of an employee's unfettered and perhaps misguided discourse on behalf of the company.

Wengroff said organizations looking to begin or grow their externally facing social initiatives need to think about how they will communicate with existing and potential customers in an engaging yet measured way. “Social media has provided an instantaneous channel for executives and others to communicate in a timelier manner, but it is a combination of both human and technology intervention that needs to be in place in order to ensure that the right message is sent out at the right time to the right audience,” he said.

[ For more advice on managing your business's social media strategy, see The Next Big Social Network Is You. ]

Companies should have written policies in place that articulate who can post what and in what context, but these policies go only so far, said Wengroff. Social media aggregation and engagement tools such as HootSuite, TweetDeck, Seesmic, Spredfast, and others help in providing specific levels of permission for certain individuals, he said. HootSuite, for example, includes several levels of authorization for managing social media content. "Effective use of policy as well as technology can ensure that spontaneous, unchecked updating will be kept at a bare minimum --if at all," said Wengroff.

"The real secret is to tap the right people to speak for your company, with the right guidelines in place to help them avoid making costly errors," said Rohit Bhargava, author of the upcoming book, Likeonomics, and professor of global marketing at Georgetown University.

"The problem with social media is that often companies are asking the wrong people to take charge," Bhargava continued. "The only solution to this challenge is to ask people to do the things that they are really good at, and not the things that someone has assigned to them because of their job title. Not every PR person is a great content creator. The good news is that with social media, organizations can finally empower the best content creators within their organization no matter which division they happen to work in. This might mean giving a voice to a gifted engineer to share a company point of view. ... When you have people who are good at creating content speaking for your company, you dramatically lower the risk that they will say something irrelevant or careless." But what if an update that makes your company go "D'oh!"--or worse--does make its way out there? Clearly, based on how we have seen the culture evolve, there is a certain level of tolerance and even forgiveness when it comes to social networking (especially for certain celebrities and sports stars). People have some level of shared understanding that posts in this medium are intended to be timely and authentic--and even a little raw. But that goes only so far, and companies need to be prepared to respond when lines are crossed.

"I recommend that companies consider creating a social media SWAT team, including at least one representative from HR, marketing, and a C-level executive with some digital savvy," said Todd William, founder and CEO of Reputation Rhino, an online reputation monitoring and management company. "It helps to have some social media command and control in the event of an online reputation crisis."

What is your organization doing to avoid social media missteps? Are you leveraging existing or new technology tools to help? Please comment below or write me at debra.donstonmiller@gmail.com.

Social media are generating tons of data, but that data only becomes truly valuable when examined in context. Attend the virtual Enterprise 2.0 event Social Analytics: The Bridge To Business Value, and learn how social analytics will provide the bridge to unlocking business value. It happens Feb. 16.

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