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Pay attention to employee “brand” online

November 8, 2012

Article courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

By Cheryl Kuch  

Today, more and more people are spending time on social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, as well as creating and/or commenting on or contributing to online blogs. These activities often lead to people creating their own positive or negative identity—effectively, their own brand.

Research shows that 62 percent of Twitter users are interested in reading tweets from people in their professional field, and 66 percent in reading tweets that offer professional insights or resources. Given those facts, should it be any wonder that an employee’s online identity can have an impact on your company? Or that the impact can be either positive or negative? Or that either way the unofficial—but very real—star status of that employee can get out of hand?

To be sure, your employee’s online identity can positively impact your business. Take, for example, just the reach of social media. The average Facebook user has 130 friends while the average Twitter user has 127. Estimates for LinkedIn first-level connections run anywhere from 50-150 or so. Consider that if 100 employees or recruits post something positive about your company, that message has the potential to reach nearly 13,000 users. These users could become your customers; better yet, they could also tweet or post something positive in reply, and now your reach doubles!

Employees who maintain a positive social media identity can help a company in a number of ways:

  • Identifying leads by building relationships with people who could be potential customers
  • Identifying who the “players” are in the industry and what they are saying
  • Increasing organizational prestige by becoming the top ranked tweeter or blogger on the subject
  • Being sought out by journalists as they seek out online experts on the subject, bringing more positive exposure to your company
  • Influencing other high performers who could potentially join your company

Duct Tape Marketing founder John Jantsch identified three big advantages that he sees in Twitter: “(1)  I get great insight when I ask questions, (2) Let’s face it, I get traffic and (3) People on Twitter spread my thoughts to new places.”

Best-selling author David Meerman Scott said, “I have personally connected with hundreds of people I otherwise wouldn’t have, and I booked an interview on NPR and a big daily newspaper using Twitter.”

Inevitably, there is a negative flip side. Not all social media presence is positive for organizations; some can be negative and lead to problems. According to a survey conducted by IT staffing company Robert Half Technology, 54 percent of companies have banned social networking while in the office.  Why?  

One obvious danger is lost productivity. The Robert Half study concluded that over three quarters of employees access their Facebook accounts regularly during business hours, but the majority of them reported they had no valid business reason for doing so.

And then there are the other challenges that employees’ use of social media during work time poses:

  • Spending too much time on their online images that they neglect required work duties
  • Inadvertently (or advertently) sharing confidential or client information
  • Creating ownership issues: Who owns the content posted or friends/followers – the company or the employee?
  • Creating team issues, such as resentment or lost team cohesion 
  • Inflating egos (and compensation expectations along them) as users add more and more friends/followers.

So what is a company to do?

Dan Schwaebel, Personal Branding Expert and Managing Partner of Millennial Branding, LLC, suggests a three-step process for companies who are looking to leverage their social media presence.   He recommends consulting a legal team prior to putting final policies in place, and recommends including:

Step 1:  Draft social media guidelines. These may include when employees should be posting, how much of their day should be/can be spent posting relative to other duties. They may also include what kinds of information can and cannot be shared about the company.  The major issue is likely the NLRB guidelines as to what can be prohibited and what cannot be prohibited.

Step 2:  Encourage employees to talk freely with their supervisor or manager about their online profiles and/or blogs/postings.

Step 3:  Provide training on the guidelines and on what the corporate message is, so that postings can be consistent.

It should also be noted that at least with Linkedin and Twitter, if an employee uses either for business purposes the company may be able to control ownership of the accounts and keep the connections while changing the name of the person in the account.  Facebook has not yet had a ruling by a court on this issue.

With proper guidelines and accountabilities in place, social media can play an important role in getting your organization’s message out. But you must manage it carefully.

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