We all know social media is difficult to “control,” from a central corporate location. It has gone way beyond the marketing department, where it started as a means of listening to the customer and responding with carefully crafted “messages,” into a free-for-all in which digital natives come in to corporations with expectations about what they can say on their Facebook and Twitter pages, and what opinions they are entitled to express. Life isn’t always divided into home and enterprise, nor is the enterprise with its increasingly flattened management and instantaneous internal communications, separated into the former operations v. marketing silos.
At the same time, large companies, especially public companies, are still guided by SEC regulations. This leads the CEOs of many publicly traded companies to fear social media, which can be a valuable marketing and customer service tool, and shy away from it. The SEC, however, changed its rules to include blogs as a means of disclosure, so there’s a real reason to be proactive in the IR area, if only to create another arena beyond the Yahoo Finance boards that challeneged companies in previous decades. Sun Microsystems has been a pioneer here, and the National Invetor Relations Institute had a program about how Sun, whose CEO was one of the first CEO bloggers, evolved its IR portal. EBay went so far as to Tweet its earnings calls, which brought the company to the attention of the SEC and forced some guidelines.
But truthfully, IR is perilously close to marketing, and a perilously small part of any enterprise. The PR/IR people are the “controlled” bloggers and tweeters, who have absorbed the caveats and best practices of social media, and can probably (if they are good) get away with a fairly wide social media presence without running afould of rules.
It’s when we get into the employee guidelines for social media that we can get into trouble in the enterprise. Every company now needs policy guidelines as to what an employee can and cannot say on a social media platform, and those are probably best developed in conjunction with HR, and disseminated when the employee is hired as part of orientation. Policy guidelines could include how an employee represents the company outside the work environment, what the company policy is toward certain language, and certainly instruction on how to represent the company’s values and corporate culture. This will become increasingly necessary as ordinary employees begin to monitor sites like UserVoice and GetSatisfaction and participate in dialogues with customers around issues like product development, product roadmaps.
These are not simple questions, and this is an evolving arena. It’s complicated. I need your help here, especially the help of people who are in HR or legal at large corporations, or who have been on the employee end of some good policies. How is this evolving? How can it evolve? Are there any “best practices” that are enterprise-wide rather than just marketing-centric?