Category Archives: Crisis communications

CEO Alert the courts want your Social Media Policy 2

Social media policy: Stern or lenient?

By Sharon A.M. MacLean who invites your comments following this blog.  You can also find more modern marketing strategies for business here. 

It’s relentless. You find stories every day on Google that announce how someone got fired for posting senseless comments on social media. We call that getting “dooced”.

Sometimes, the comments are intended; other times, not. Who can forget the Royal Bank of Scotland Chairman Rory Cullinan who did not mean to go public when he sent Snapchat messages to his daughter saying he was bored at work. Cullinan lost his job after his daughter posted them on Instagram. It’s almost unbelievable that people will broadcast their most risky thoughts in a public forum.

And yet, they do.

This blog is not for those idiots. It’s for the vast majority of human beings who are sensible, generally respectful, and who appreciate guidelines to avoid the “lack of common sense” that occasionally befalls all of us.

You’ve probably already been alerted to potential disputes such as these:

  • Are you legally exposed when it comes to the rights of employees who want to freely post on social networks?
  • Who is liable when a disgruntled employee tweets about getting passed over for a promotion?
  • What about a customer who complained on Facebook about their restaurant meal to a reporter. Do you respond?
  • Should you just ban all employees from accessing their social media sites at work completely?
  • What exactly is the proper way to go about sensitive issues?

Your company—big or small—needs a social media policy advises social media pioneer Olivier Taupin of Next Dimension Media. He’s the guy who originated group rules for LinkedIn managers. The degree of leniency is up to you and your management team to decide based on the structure of your company. By the way, if you don’t have a policy, your lawyer’s hands are tied when it comes to an employee suing for wrongful dismissal because they dissed your company online. You will have a difficult time winning in court because you never told employees they couldn’t do what they did.

Examples of social media policies

Social media policies that are too broad may lose the chance to help employees develop good habits. You might even miss finding great “brand ambassadors” for your brand message.

Zappos is an example of a company that’s created a brilliant social media culture. Their policy is seven words long: “Be Real and Use Your Best Judgment.” It’s too brief for my taste and the Zappos policy is not for everyone.

Policy wonks generally refer to three approaches when making rules of engagement. The first is evolutionary to see which slip-ups—and opportunities—present themselves more frequently before scripting instructions. A second way is to establish a clear policy from the outset which leads to a third hybrid option. This method starts with composing a strategy based on your culture before determining what needs to be adopted over time.

For example, you may prefer this stern approach to social media:

  • Employees who develop and update social media postings will only do so with the approval of the president or his/her designate;
  • Only employees that have been chosen as “official” social media representatives are allowed to contribute to the brand’s social media;
  • Social media is not allowed in the workplace at all.

Oracle’s social media policy has evolved over the years. This global enterprise with 130,000 employees that designs and manufactures IT networks previously regarded social  media as a “hindrance to productivity because it could lead to too much personal use.” The company now encourages “…all employees to share official company social posts and content on their own social channels.”

There’s evidence this change-of-heart recognizes that employees with a greater voice are a happier workforce, says Eric Siu in The Globe & Mail.  He’s referring to research from the University of Warwick on how happiness makes people 12 per cent more productive.

Personally, I don’t think harsh policies are relevant today. It’s a switch-up from “Old Style PR” designed to focus on things that employees cannot do rather than what they can do.

Olivier adds that stern policies will not work in the context of social media since employees do have a life outside their workplace.These narrow-minded policies will not prevent some of the most damageable posts: Those made in the privacy of their home on personal social media accounts where they’re speaking with their friends and followers.

Don’t forget sites like Glassdoor, either, cautions Olivier. They encourage anonymous and identified authors to post reviews of current and former employers and company executives.

I like the IBM method which allows employees to comment on behalf of the company while retaining some of their personality. Here’s an example: “Lead Development Representative for #cloud at @IBM#Bluemix #Softlayer – I like fashion and news. Tweets are my own opinion.” 

IBM’s last item in their policy cheekily reminds employees: “Don’t forget your day job. You should make sure that your online activities do not interfere with performing your job responsibilities or commitments to customers.”

I also love this one from GAP when it comes to confidentiality: “Don’t even think about it. Talking about financial information, sales trends, strategies, forecasts, legal issues, future promotional activities.”

6 More Ideas for Your Social Media Policy 

When crafting guidelines, make are the 7 essential Must-Dos:

  1. Start Day One. Include briefing notes for new employees on policies in their employee handbook or however you hire a new person. Make sure that employees understand the policy is contractual and there are consequences for violating it. This early start sends the message that you’re serious about social media management.
  2. Update your Social Policy Regularly. Social Media is a fluid environment that reflects the laws governing the Internet. Expect your policies to change accordingly.You will need strategies in place as you learn this new marketing tool.
  3. Please use common sense. Yes, it seems everyone should know to resist sending a racial slur, demeaning or inflammatory comment. Yet, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and tell employees to be polite. Advise them to agree to disagree with others, especially on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where things can go viral wrong very quickly.
  4. Create safe places. Have a genuine open-door policy. Organizational trainer David Meade says it’s the leader’s job to figure out how to help your workforce feel safe. Why? Because employees want to feel respected…listened to…and trained. So, if an employee has a grievance, encourage them to visit their supervisor before taking to social.
  5. Ask employees to amplify key messages. Social media more likely will pay dividends if employees are behind it. Give them access to content that framesss company positions and directions on key subjects. Ask them to share those messages. Also think about using social as a way to build buzz for upcoming products or services.
  6. Encourage Self-Monitoring. More and more HR departments are checking employee profiles and activities. Controversial? Yes, for good reasons. Informing employees they do not have reasonable expectation of privacy in their social media communication is often a good enough deterrent. But there is even a better one: Encourage employees to follow each other and invite managers to connect with them. The purpose is to create a team spirit, not a police state.
  7. Most important of all: Don’t stop training your employees after day one. Use the training sessions to update your workforce on policies and as strategies change.

Everyone wns.

Lifelong communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine for over 21 years for business people. She is certified in Integrated Online Strategies from the University of San Francisco and the Instant Customer Mastery Certified Professional Program.

8 steps +1 more to navigating the media maze  

By Sharon A.M. MacLean

Most leaders of commerce and the community want media coverage for their organizations. They understand the power of journalistic exposure for their mission and recognize that space in traditional media is at a premium.  Invariably, these influencers also want reporting only under these conditions:

  • If it’s positive
  • If the message is controlled
  • If they look good

A veteran broadcaster who, as journalists are fond of saying, moved to the “dark side” of public affairs published a new book this summer on his perspective from both sides of the microphone.

The Honest Spin Doctor is a 93-page account by Grant Ainsley for people who want to pitch the media on covering their story. That’s his photo above this blog. It’s also for those who want to avoid deeper scrutiny by journalists and find themselves in a news maelstrom. Either way, he says it’s possible for CEOs, politicians, and spokespeople to be honest in their relationships with reporters.

What’s captivating is Ainsley’s recall of names and details throughout his career. He’s also candid about his fear of the unknown, especially when Ainsley decides to move out of the broadcast booth and into the world of corporate communications.

The award-winning journalist uses breezy story-telling to deliver his lessons. Yet, don’t underestimate the modest approach. Ainsley describes several real-world examples of how miscalculations by poorly prepared spokespeople went terribly wrong. Anyone remember former chairman of BP Tony Hayward and the blown-out well of Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico? Or Lululemon Athletica Founder Chip Wilson and the stupid comments he made about women’s thighs?

Edmontonian Grant Ainsley started his radio life in 1977 as a disc jockey at CKSA Lloydminster before moving that same year for a job in the newsroom at CFQC Saskatoon. He returned to Edmonton in ’78 for news posts at CHQT followed by 96 K-Lite as news and public affairs director for 10 years. The guy paid his dues.

The move in 1992 by the CRTC to allow radio stations to cut back on the spoken word prompted Ainsley to change his profession. He joined the City of Edmonton’s public works department in communications before taking on The Alberta Home Builder’s Association as CEO for 12 years.

The Internet was just starting to take hold in business life in those years and much change was afoot in the world of media.

This book comes at a time when employees also want to see their leaders become more vocal in sharing their perspectives about the future. They want their chief to alert them to what’s coming down the pike so they can prepare themselves, as well. Increasingly, employees want to know more about the values espoused by their executives and understand who they are as people and what really drives their thinking.

These precepts make a leader today and applying Ainsley’s ideas for getting along with the media make good sense, too.

Here’s some of his notions that stood out for me. But you can get this book for yourself at www.grantainsley.com to find more.

1. Build a long trap-line

This is the foundation for any solid media plan—heck, any marketing plan. Ainsley encourages readers to build a database with these details:

  • Names of reporters and outlets
  • E-mail addresses for reporters as well as assignment editors in print, radio, and television
  • Contact details for relevant bloggers
  • Contact information for weekly newspapers
  • The B list of names for people who are not members of the media but who are relevant to the story.

2.  The media release is king

  • Develop an announcement in the way a reporter might tackle the story. Find out the W5: who, what, where, when and why. And how.
  • Learn the position of a reporter by following their by-lines or Twitter feed
  • Keep the media release to one page
  • Include a quote from a spokesperson

I would add that media names be organized into separate tiers, based on their social authority and influence.

There are many social tools to help you find influencers, including Followerwonk, Klout, Topsy, Commun.it, and Group High.

3. Timing is everything

Ainsley likes Monday morning announcements at 11 am because reporters generally are thirsty for news at the start of the week. He also likes to schedule television news conferences at 11.30 am.

He doesn’t talk that much about the print media, so I recommend becoming aware of daily and weekly newspaper deadlines as well as magazine closing dates. Reporters and opinion columnists also have different writing styles and cut-off-dates.

4. Supply a variety of content formats

Develop a complete media kit with these contents:

  • Media release
  • Fact sheet
  • DVD with a memory stick
  • High resolution photo of key players

5. Embrace social media

There’s every opportunity today for organizers to cover their own special events, says Ainsley. If a reporter or assignment editor won’t respond, organizers can try doing it themselves by building up social media contact lists to receive messages and postings. Campaigns centres also can be set up during the event to distribute live content.

Yet, the latest social media industry report from Social Media Examiner tells us that a big concern for organizers in 2014 is figuring out how to find their online target audiences—journalists and reporters, in this case. How to connect also remains high on the list of questions.  More attention is required here.

6. Develop a communications policy

I like this one, a lot, and Ainsley includes a sample policy in his book. He recommends that company spokespeople be identified in advance, reveals how go-to people might conduct themselves, and explains the rules for non-spokespeople. A safe way to get started? Take them all for training.

7. Develop a social media policy

There is no escaping the increasing momentum that social media has on business every year. The same industry report from Social Media Examiner tell us that 92% of business indicates social media is important for their business, up from 86% in 2013.

Here, again, Ainsley addresses salient points that will keep organizations in front of any potential for a media crisis. His chapter 3 title says it well: “Companies need to deal with social media, or a lot of things will start crawling out.”

Ainsley gives his readers a sample policy in the book and suggests that companies explain what employees can and cannot say in social media when talking about the company.

He also recommends that someone be assigned to check to see if employees are following policies from time to time.  Don’t have a policy? Don’t count on the courts to see it your way if the company is slammed.

8. Grant’s 4 steps to a great interview

Readers will gain tremendous insights by scouring The Honest Spin Doctor and adapting ideas for their place of business. Here’s just a few tips in summary from a clear, crisp read:

  • Learn everything possible about the subject and the announcement
  • Develop key messages
  • Practice until every possible question and answer turns easily inside the head
  • Executive with confidence

9. Follow-ups are crucial, but don’t stalk

I’m adding this final point on follow ups with the media using email. Top influencers may not acknowledge every mention or tweet in social media but followers must respond when they do.

When making contact via email, be clear how the email address was obtained (if it’s not readily available to everyone) and also remind the person of the social media relationship. If the influencer replies, great. If not, do not keep sending emails. Continue the outreach via social media instead.

I liked this book.  If you want to navigate the media maze, you will, too.

xxxxxx

Need help with your strategic content? Contact me through LinkedIn or by email: sharon@worldgatemedia.com. You can also pick up more ideas from my website: http://www.worldgatemedia.com

Life-long communications strategist Sharon MacLean owned and published a traditional print magazine over 21 years for business people. She now applies her enhanced knowledge in digital marketing to the needs of her clients and believes in the value of combining the best of both worlds.