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Social Media Governance starting from the Top Down

Feb 02 2016

[ToughProblem] Social Media Summer Series   Download to read offline


Social Media Governance starting from the Top Down

  • When a social media employee at American Apparel decided to celebrate American Independence Day by posting an image on the company’s corporate TUMBLR account with the hash tags #smoke #clouds, it was not long before the Internet erupted in a stream of angry posts.

    Instead of an image showing celebratory fireworks, what was actually posted was an iconic image of the last moments of the 1986 Challenge Space Shuttle disaster, in which seven crew lost their lives.

    American Apparels response; “the image was re-blogged by one of our international social media employees who was born after the tragedy and was unaware of the event … we sincerely regret the insensitivity of the selection”. 

    For many companies, the rapid growth and pervasiveness of social media and the resulting need for effective governance has caught senior management off guard.  While originally considered “a fad for kids”, the impacts of social media have now eclipsed the expectations of even the most far sighted individuals, and now have the potential of far ranging consequences across all aspects of business operations.

    While the Altimeter 2015 State of Social Business, did show that up to 80% of businesses surveyed do have in place some form of social media strategy, it is significant that less than 28% report having executives at the senior management level active on social media, with a barely 9% reporting participation at board level.

    For organisations to survive in an evolving social media focused society this must change.  It is now vitally important that management at all levels in business begin to participate in, and have an active understanding of the potential impacts of social media on their organisation, and that social media no longer be considered something left to be handled by those ‘Millennials’ born after 1986.

    What defines food social media governance?
    When looking at social media and its governance, it is important to understand that unlike strategies for systems such email that tend to be about policing employees, social media governance should be considered an all-encompassing set of guidelines that:

    * Define policies and procedures which explain your organisation’s social media purpose.
    * How it monitors their impact.
    * How it responds to issues.
    * How it handles crisis events.
    * How all aspects of the business integrate with the corporate social media framework.

    It should empower your employees and give them the tools they need to manage the social media needs of your business, while at the same time explaining the processes of accountability through effective and up to date education across all levels of your organisation. 

    Social media can impact a business in many and varied ways, and for the board and senior management, it its vitally important that they develop a clear understanding of how social media can and likely will affect their organisation at some point, and seek to develop policies and guidelines to prepare for those effects.

    Your social media governance strategy should be designed to define best practices for your organisation and also provide guidance across all possible areas of risk and exposure.

    The Social Media Policy
    Your social media policy represents the first aspect of a strong social medial governance strategy.  Its purpose is to protect your organisation, your customers and clients from risk, and also to define accepted standards and methods of social media interaction for your employees.

    Does your board and senior management have an understanding of your social media “Brand”?  When developing a social media policy, it is vital to firstly understand what your current social media "brand" looks like ... how your organisation currently appears across social media platforms.  A social media audit of your entire organisation from the CEO down is the best place to start.  
  • Though this type of audit, your entire organisation can develop a better understanding of your existing social media appearance, and define areas of potential risk, as well as potentially identify new opportunities for social engagement.  The audit should also identify all of the existing social media points of access and create a full log of all existing social media usernames and passwords.

  • Access to such details may seem insignificant, but the British entertainment retailer HMV found out the hard way that this is not the case, when senior executives decided to fire members of their social media team, and the disgruntled ex-employees were the only ones with the Twitter passwords.

    Following the audit, a set of clear and consistent guidelines for each of the major social media platforms should be put in place which reflect best practice expectations for each.  

    These guidelines should define how your brand should be represented, the nature and style of posts appropriate to your organisation, and the philosophy which these post should engender.   You also should ensure that your policies are proactive, providing guidance to empower your employees to make the best advantage of social media.

    Social Media Training and Awareness

    Once the policy framework has been completed, it is of supreme importance that you educate your entire organisation on the use of social media and the available applications for each platform, the contents of your guidelines and the best practices they define.  This includes all levels of management from the CEO down.  

    A potential Social Media disaster is something that can happen at any level of management as the Twitter CFO Anthony Noto discovered when he accidentally pressed the wrong button, and instead of sending a private, tweeted to ALL his Twitter followers - "I still think we should buy them. He is on your schedule for Dec 15 or 16--we will need to sell him. i have a plan."  While the tweet itself was quickly deleted, it had already started a rumour mill of excited investors who suspected it referred to Twitter's plans to acquire the Justin Beiber backed ‘selfie’ app Shots.

    Such mistakes have the potential to be very costly for a business brand, and the damage caused by a “simple mistake” can escalate very rapidly due to the viral nature of social media.   As a direct result, it vital that all levels of your organisation have a detailed understanding of your social media governance policy.

    Over the past 10 years it has become a standard practice for many large organisations to provide their CEO’s, board members and senior management with media readiness training to prepare them in advance for press conferences and door stop interviews.  With the increase risks of potential exposure from social media, it is now becoming equally important that these same people be fully versed in social media.

    Social Media Monitoring and Response Management
    While policies and guidelines provide a framework for your organisations social media appearance and the mechanisms you provide to manage this, it is important to understand that in many cases it is what happens outside your control that has the potential for the biggest problems.

    As a result, the processes and mechanisms your organisation puts in place to monitor how your organisation is being viewed on all social media platforms is of equal importance to your policies and guidelines.

    Importantly, social media does not work a 9to5 job, and a potential social media crisis can happen at any time, and if your organisation if not monitoring and ready to respond effectively, the viral nature of the internet can result in things spiraling out of hand rapidly.

    Having a proactive social media monitoring team ready to respond to potential issues with effective and reliable information, turned what could have been a potential public relations nightmare for Optus, into a stellar example of how social media can be used to positive advantage.

    When the internet erupted over Arabic posters in an Optus Store in a Merrylands Shopping Centre near Sydney, the Optus social media team were ready.  They took effective control of the dialog and responded in an open and practical manner.  Not only defusing the situation but also earning the respect of many people for the way they handled themselves as a team.

    The Crisis Management Plan
    In a world where the “news” is now tweeted and shared on Facebook hours before anyone sees a story on the mainstream news, it is becoming critical for every organisation to have in place an effective social media crisis management plan.

    Your plan should include mechanisms to define what constitutes a potential crisis, define appropriate possible responses and delineate clear chains of control and approvals, that allow your social media response team to deal with and respond to issues as they arise. 

    Putting things in plain terms, if your social media team can’t respond because no one in legal will be around till 9am tomorrow, then you may already have a problem your organisation can’t handle.

    For Southwest Airlines being ready meant commencing a constant stream of accurate and reliable updates on both Twitter and Facebook within minutes of Flight345 landing without its nose wheel at LaGuardia airport near New York.

    Not being prepared is no long an option 
    Regardless of the nature or size your organisation is, it is no longer practical to simply assume that social media does not have the potential to effect or impact on your operation.  And for senior executives and management this also means, it’s time to become proactive and become involved in the social media dialog.  Ask yourself, does your CEO have a twitter account, and is it being used effectively by your organisation to manage and deliver positive messages.  If the answer is no … then why not?

    At [toughproblem] by looking at Social Media in a new light, our team is ready to assist your organisation with assessing your current Social Media Brand and assisting with the development of effective and practical systems and solutions for Social Media Governance.  We can also assist with your general media and social media readiness training and implementation needs across all level of operation.

    Want to know more?
    Wes Tatters is an internationally published author specialising in Internet and New Media technologies and an accomplished broadcast television professional. With over 30 years experience focused on technology, internet and broadcast television, he has a deep understanding of the emerging demands that Social Media place on companies.  He is the executive producer and a company director of Light Knights Entertainment - www.lightknights.com

    Coming up next time
    In the next update, we will be examining in closer detail the impact that millennials are beginning to have on the way business must operate in the changing social media focused world. 

    Further Reading

    Image Source: Peter pursuant to a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.


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