Every online business or professional needs to maintain a healthy level of complete paranoia about the web in order to protect themselves.
A recent article particularly brought home the importance of this. It's a fairly funny (if slightly cruel) deconstruction of an applicant's cover letter to Ragan, a U.S. corporate communications company.
The letter and Ragan's comments are painful and worth sharing with anyone as a stark warning of the perils of over-enthusiasm and pure bull. In its article, the company tears apart the applicant's dreadful letter but, thankfully, doesn't go so far as to name the sender.
Other bloggers may not have been so kind.
Healthy Social Media Paranoia
Everyone needs to be slightly paranoid about the information they make available online, whether it's being a bit more circumspect about the drunken photos on Facebook or the comments left in a personal blog.
But for online companies and individuals hoping to work in an online sector, this is even more important.
Your reputation can be harmed permanently, even by your offline exchanges. Nothing stops someone from sharing your letters, pitches, or other communications, as this blog post from Ragan shows.
Think back over the sheer volume of online communications you will have shared professionally. Tweets, blog posts, comments in forums and across other social platforms, such as Facebook. Businesses are publicly communicating more than ever before.
Such communications can be really useful, good for your search engine optimization (SEO), your corporate visibility, and your reputation. You just need to be confident none of them could come back to haunt you.
- Pro tip: If your Facebook connections are mixed between real-life friends and professional contacts, it's a good idea to separate them into groups. That way you can restrict information (in privacy settings) which you just want to share with friends, so that information with professional contacts remains professional.
Protecting Yourself on Social Media Sites
That's why you need to have some ground rules for all your communications. If you're an individual using the web to promote yourself, then you need to be careful about what you choose to put out there.
If you're a business, it's harder to remain in control. That's why it's essential to lay down some strict rules for any staff communication on behalf of the company.
Ensuring staff stick to the guidelines you've determined puts an additional barrier between your company's reputation and the kind of mess that causes a Twitter storm or scathing blog post. Paranoia is healthy.
- Pro tip: If you have to think twice about posting something on Twitter, don't post it. Obviously you want to be yourself -- but be aware of the audience and the potential reaction that your tweets may generate. Or perhaps if your angle is to be controversial and generate attention you should do the opposite -- if you don't have to think twice don't post it!
Basic Guidelines for Social Media Communications
Be clear about whether staff Twitter accounts are official or personal. If they are personal but relate to their job, then ensure the account holder adds a disclaimer explaining that these aren't necessarily the opinions of their employer.
If it is official, they need to follow the guidelines you put in place. If you're not sure what should go in these guidelines, then here are some suggestions.
- All enquiries from mainstream media (e.g., national newspapers) should be passed to the press office or a senior director if there is no press office. Don't respond even to seemingly mundane questions about the company without making someone senior aware first.
- Never answer a comment in anger, no matter how provoking. Always stop and remember you represent the company -- not yourself.
- Don't be rude. Companies have to remain polite (unless they are Ryanair). It's professional. You can be firm, implacable, and contradict people, but always do so with a professional manner.
- Ask a colleague to check any major communications, such as a blog post. This ensures you have an additional pair of eyes checking the tone and content, as well as for typos or spelling errors.
- Keep relevant and stick to your area of expertise. Commenting on subjects that you don't know much about risks making the whole organization look amateur.
- Never comment publicly on any legal challenges the company is involved in.
- The company can be sued for slander. Never pass comment or judgment on rivals, other businesses, or individuals.
- Remember that the Internet has a long memory. Don't publish anything if you aren't confident it will still be on-message in 12 months time.
- Make sure you differentiate clearly between opinion and fact.
Please bear in mind that these are guidelines designed to limit the chances of things going wrong. There's lots of fantastic advice on the web covering best practice and building customer engagement through online social platforms -- check SEW's Social Media Marketing section for some great advice.
But it makes sense to have some rules in place to keep your company out of trouble.
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