PRESS: Should you let your staff Tweet?

Posted in: Latest News, Opinion- Nov 16, 2012 2 Comments

In a repeat of my interview with @trevclarke last month, Artechulate has been quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald again – this time on the topic of how companies and organisations should manage their staff’s use of Twitter.  Just as before, only a few comments were taken from a much longer email interview – and so in the interests of making the time spent on that count, I’ve pasted the entire interview below.

But it is a very important topic that Sylvia Pennington raises – should firms prevent, tightly control or fully encourage their staff to use Twitter.  I came at the issue with a very positive spin as you would expect from someone who has been free and unrestricted in my use Twitter while working for two large US multi-nationals and have seen both the personal benefit from that and the benefit derived by those brands.  In both companies I sent out overwhelmingly positive messages about the companies that I worked for, and gained personally from having “something to say”  that was considered of value by the communities wrapped around those brands.

In short, I make the point that the benefits massively outweigh the risks, and the risks are very easy to manage.  So on a very rational balance – why wouldn’t you embark enthusiastically on supporting something that in all reality is actually very hard to stop!

Q: What are the advantages for companies of having staff run their own Twitter accounts, in addition to the corporate one? (Thinking professional services firms and the like here)

There are three main advantages of freeing employees up to run their own Twitter accounts – but it does require careful oversight by the PR and/or legal teams to guard against brand damage and observe compliancy.

1. Particularly for a professional services firm, bleeding out the thought leadership and expertise of the human capital is an excellent way of ambiently marketing the companies excellence.  Rather than merely “allowing” this, firms should positively encourage it; investing in training so employees can understand to leverage it most effectively.

2. For recruitment purposes, encouraging staff to tweet is more likely to result in them being positive about the company culture and company achievements. (Worth looking at start-up Addvocate on this topic http://launch.addvocate.com/).  It creates an organic news distribution machine that carries a lot more authenticity than traditional channels – this can be a priceless  asset to the PR and marketing functions of any company.

3. It is important for a modern business to be in touch with its community in a social way – be that customers, partners or prospects.  Sharing company information in a non-invasive fashion is a very effective form of marketing while collecting feedback via an informal channel is a great way for a company to remain in touch with its marketplace.

Q: What are the risks? What sorts of businesses have the most to gain, or lose, from allowing staff to tweet freely?

The risks are manifold but easily managed and guarded against if addressed proactively.  Obviously inflammatory, controversial or offensive comments can reflect badly on the brand, even if employees carry a disclaimer on their biography (to be advised).  Equally, employees who aren’t close to the corporate messaging can fork the company tongue and confuse the market.  Employees leaking confidential or commercially sensitive information should be guarded against also.  Finally, a company does leave itself vulnerable to poaching by allowing its best talent to be highly visible and available.

Most businesses have more to gain than lose by taking this approach.  The risks are easily managed if approached sensibly and the advantages are gained with very little investment.  Enablement training and good policy document distribution are the keys to doing this well.  However, some organisations – like government departments, political entities, law firms and any organisation dealing exclusively with sensitive personal material do expose themselves to greater scrutiny and higher risk.

Q: How do companies weigh up whether to allow it or not? Or is it more common that the practice comes before a formal policy is created?

Generally speaking, it is very hard to police Twitter use by  employees and so it best to take a liberal approach – carefully managing against the risks while at the same time encouraging and empowering to ensure the opportunity is fully embraced. For the most part, the practice will emerge, a mistake will be made and then a policy will have to be implemented.  It is rare that it is managed proactively, except perhaps in Greenfield/Start-up scenarios.

Q: What level of detail are companies needing to go into when formulating social media policy about this issue? General guidelines or specific do’s and don’ts?

Generally there are some simple do’s and don’ts, but the best rule of thumb is “if in doubt, don’t!”

1. Do not disclose company financial information without prior approval.  Moreover, if something has never been shared publicly before there may be good reason so check before “breaking” news on bahalf of the company

2. Avoid topics such as politics, gender, race and religion – or at least be considerate about any impact on the company in the event of discussing these

3. Do not tweet drunk, angry or tired.  Be ever mindful of the implications of the brand for everything said or shared

4. Observe basic etiquette: be honest, respectful, polite and interesting – try and add value wherever possible

5. Do not register official corporate channels on behalf of the company without prior approval

Most companies have published their social media policies online in written and sometimes video form, so it is easy to find plenty of material for a guide.

Finally, it is worth saying that when mistakes are made, it is important to avoid the temptation to sanction the employee.  Mistakes can often be down to poor education internally.  Managing this phenomenon should be done in the spirit of encouragement and enablement rather than fear and reprimand.

 If you are interested in harnessing the power of staff Twitter use, Artechulate can offer comprehensive strategy development and enablement training programs to help make the most of this powerful communications opportunity.

2 Responses to “PRESS: Should you let your staff Tweet?”

  1. Bill Bennett says:

    “Employees who aren’t close to the corporate messaging can fork the company tongue and confuse the market.”

    I’m not sure this is as much of a risk as people think. Companies that stay tightly on message all the time come across as bland, inflexible and controlling. If they were people we’d think them mildly bonkers.

    None of these qualities help sales. Of course there need to be some guidelines and employees should not directly contradict key messages.

    Conveying a precise message is best left to other media, social media should be more about the “vibe” (to quote from The Castle).

    • Gareth Llewellyn says:

      You make an excellent point Bill, thanks for your comment. Authenticity and that special organic feel to how a company portrays itself on social media is critical for success. And you are quite right that a cohort of employees all singing loudly from the same hymn sheet looks and feels like what it is – stage-managed. So employees should feel encouraged to express their own personality and individuality wherever possible. But I guess the concern is exactly what you refer to as contradicting the company message in a way that can confuse the customer. Clarity in internal communication is the key to avoiding this and tools like “Addvocate” can help.