Running with Scissors: Are Social Networks Safe?

How many of you reading this post have already grappled with the issue of employees starting company LinkedIn groups or Twitter accounts within any rhyme or reason?  Has the team in Chennai started posting jobs on LinkedIn? Did the person who created that great Facebook group for your upcoming conference leave the company and delete the group on her last day? Did your latest email diatribe about increasing sales somehow make its way onto Twitter? running with scissors

If you answered yes, rest assured you’re not alone. Social networking technology has proliferated far more quickly than companies’ abilities to forge policies and procedures to reign in enthusiastic employees. Social networking has broken down the old hierarchy of waiting for news to be published; it has created a peer-to-peer medium that makes everyone a star. It’s no wonder that some companies have reacted to the potential of social networking by blocking it from the company network. And there’s no surer way to make social networking the forbidden fruit for your employees than by limiting its access.

Let’s start with some basic assumptions. You’re paying your employees to work so any distractions – such as social networking – are best discouraged. But, wouldn’t it be beneficial to uncover what your competitors are saying about your brand real-time?  What about the ability to find out that a major telecommunications company is considering a buying decision in your category? These are two real-life examples that were uncovered through smart social networking; in one instance, the vendor was able get on the short list for the RFP; in the other instance, a pre-emptive strike through another social network enabled the vendor to thwart its competitor’s efforts.

Make it go away, you say? Don’t even go there. Social networking isn’t going anywhere; in fact, it’s getting stronger and more pervasive. Remember when pagers, cell phones and e-mail invaded the workplace? It’s no different. Your company has to establish reasonable limitations that leverage the intellectual capital of your workforce while ensuring primary productivity goals are met.

Consider augmenting your employment handbook with a social media section to educate employees. Speak to your IT department to determine where the boundaries should be, e.g., no uploading photos, no mass “friending” expeditions. Lastly, consider having a formal social media team in place. This team can act as the “editors” of your social media initiatives by approving employee content and monitoring any variances.

How powerful is social networking? Consider this example: one of our clients was experiencing a competitive attack on Twitter. Every day, postings illuminated the company’s supposed shortcomings; however, the information was dated and irrelevant.  It didn’t matter – when the social networks aren’t hearing from you, people rely on what they read as truth. We helped them launch a daily drumbeat powered by their employees that serves as a channel for good news, as well as a defensive stance. The before and after is striking, especially in their share price, which no longer reacts negatively to competitive hits. In fact, it appears their competitor has gotten bored and moved on to other initiatives. The lesson: shore up your social networking practices or suffer the consequences.

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