How To Avoid Social Media Messes - InformationWeek

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10/31/2011
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How To Avoid Social Media Messes

Social networking pioneers may be dealing with a pile of accounts, messaging, and credentials. Here's how to clean up the mess--or avoid it in the first place.

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Any company developing a social media strategy today will have the benefit of at least a little history and some best practices on its side. Those who were pioneers didn't have those advantages, and many are now paying the price with a hodge-podge of accounts, messaging, and credentials. How can companies clean up this mess and focus their efforts, and how can organizations new to social media avoid these missteps?

The BrainYard's David Carr recently wrote a story in which Joshua Michelle Ross, senior VP and director of digital strategy for Europe with communications firm Fleishman Hillard, was quoted as saying, "The very factors that make social media" so easy for individuals are what make it a sprawling mess for organizations."

Indeed, social networking is intended to enable unfettered (within reason) communications among users. There are very few checks when accounts are set up, and information is updated and widely shared with lightning speed. Organizations need to recognize this, and then work to apply the controls they can put in place.

One organization that has done just that is Montgomery Community College, located in Pennsylvania. The director of communications for MCCC, Alana Mauger, is responsible for developing and facilitating social media activities. She describes herself as one of those early social advocates: "[Our social media presence] was a grass-roots effort that I started a little over three years ago because I recognized the value of such interaction," she said. "Soon, every department wanted an 'official' college Facebook page, Twitter account, etc., and I saw the potential for mass chaos if something wasn't done quickly."

As an academic institution, MCCC has disparate departments and users ranging from students to faculty to administration to alumni and more. Mauger said there was an acknowledgement that social media could not be controlled, but that the accounts endorsed as official by the institution could.

[ Setting social media policies is good. Here are a few more things worth considering: 9 LinkedIn Etiquette Tips ]

Mauger identified that one of the most important steps to take in putting some boundaries around the college's social media presence was to create a system by which users could, in effect, apply to act as a sanctioned social mouthpiece for the organization. She developed a social media handbook that details the college's philosophy on social media and its uses, including how users can set up an "official, endorsed" social media account. Once an application has been approved, the applicant must agree to abide by a contract including provisions such as, "Each account must be updated a minimum or once per week and must be monitored daily."

"The application and contract state that any person or entity at MCCC can have a social media account, including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, etc.," Mauger said. "However, if the department or person would like its account to be endorsed and promoted by MCCC, an application must be completed and approved by the appropriate area VP. [The application] is then considered by the department of marketing and communications."

Mauger said this approach is intended to weed out departments and individuals who don't understand how to effectively use social media, although she added that she works with these users to develop their understanding. The application asks questions such as, "What is your experience using social media?" "Who is your target audience?" "What type of information/interaction you will offer?" "Who will facilitate the page?"

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