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Who Owns the Social Media Conversation?

Li Evans
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To blog or not to blog? To Tweet or not to Tweet? To Facebook or not to Facebook?

Beyond the research that you should be doing on whether incorporating these marketing tactics into your social media plan is wise, you should also think about who's managing those accounts, and how they're being managed.

Why? Think about it. Who's actually building the relationships?

Your employees are making the personal connections in these social media communities. They're speaking to, sharing with, and engaging with your audience and customers on the various social media platforms that you've chosen to include in your social media strategy. They're creating and strengthening the bond between your company and the users of your products or services.

It's a Lot More Than Just a Tweet or a Blog Post

If you haven't done your due diligence in the research area and just slapped up a Twitter account and told your in-house SEO or maybe your intern to just start tweeting (don't get me started on interns tweeting for national brands...), you could be dealing with a problem when they leave your employment. If you put any kind of social media tactics in place without a thought or care to how your employees are going about it or the results of their actions, how do you know if your audience has become more interested in the person, or the person representing your company?

Social media offers a lot in the way of "personal branding." Sometimes it happens accidently. Your audience becomes attached to one of your employees, the employee leaves your company, and those audience members follow.

Employees accidently create their own personal brand when the audience attaches to them as a person, rather than as the representative of a company. They view the employee telling the audience about the valuable content as the authority, rather than the company that invested in putting out the valuable content.

Seeing Your Audience Leave with Your Former Employee

Here's an example. I have a guilty pleasure; I love following the ins and outs of Hollywood. For years I religiously read "Fox411," a column on the Fox News site.

Roger Friedman, the blogger who wrote that column, was rarely wrong on his information. If you wanted to know anything and everything about Michael Jackson, Friedman's was the column to read.

In April, suddenly there were no more "Fox411." No announcements, no warnings, just no more blog posts. I was upset! I even e-mailed the contact address on Fox News asking what happened to "Fox411." I never received a reply.

Coming from a search background, eventually I started digging around and found out that Fox News had dismissed Friedman for posting something he likely shouldn't have. He was gone and so was "Fox411."

Think I'm going to FoxNews.com? Nope. I haven't been to the site since April. Now I read Roger's new blog, "The Showbiz 411: Hollywood to the Hudson" on the Hollywood Reporter Network. Many other readers also followed him there.

Fox News thought it was great to have a Hollywood insider blogging for them on their gossip column. When I went there to read his column, I also went to other pages on Fox News. His column did what it was supposed to -- it got me to other areas on the site.

What Fox didn't bank on was how popular Friedman's column would become. He gave the audience the valuable content they craved. Fox didn't count on his audience relating more to him as a person than him as a Fox News employee. They just told him to start blogging about Hollywood. Now that valuable audience is gone.

This goes across all social media spectrums. People want to connect to people, not entities or things. Put your thinking into that perspective when you're implementing your strategies. This is why you shouldn't put your social media strategy and implementation into the hands of just one employee.

Don't Use Limited Resources as an Excuse to Rely on Just One Person

If you're short on resources, don't be tempted to use that as a reason to just rely on one person to implement your social media strategy. Spread it across your company, ask people from different departments to give you an hour or two of their time to contribute to fostering the conversation on the different social media channels you're involved with.

Get the company's owners involved. Make your audience understand they aren't shut away in a big office sending down orders. Hey, they're real live people, too!

How your employees represent you in the social media space is also important. Their actions (posting, tweeting, etc.), their handles, and the images they use to identify themselves all reflect on who actually owns that conversation.

Zappos does this in such a way that you know the person you're interacting with represents Zappos as an employee. The company's name is somewhere in the handle, whether it's Zappos_Mayor, Zappos_Latrira, or Zappos_Hsieh.

If those employees leave, they don't tweet from their account anymore. That conversation is "owned" by Zappos. When that employment ends, the conversations will also cease.

Establish that Your Employees Represent You in the Social Media Site

That's not to say they won't follow your employee to their new position, but it firmly establishes that the person clearly represents your company and is interacting with the audience as your representative. It also establishes a more foundational trust that they truly represent you, rather than figuring out that Jane-Smith-344 represents you by reading a profile or bio. It's right there in front of them in the handle.

Lay the groundwork in policy form and training when your social media implementation begins so that your employees understand they're establishing these conversations and relationship as your company representative. Their goal is to build the relationship with the audience and the company in a more personal manner, not to build the relationship with them as an individual.

Make sure the bios and profiles they build focus on your company more than their intimate personal details. While you still want people to know your employees are human, their role with your company is far more important.

Finally, don't sink a ton of money and resources into your social media strategy implementation if it rides on one person doing all the talking. The last thing you want is to lose everything you've built when the employee quits, or you have to lay someone off. Remember, your company is more than just one person; make sure your social media strategy reflects that!


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