Social Networking – business opportunity and threat?
Early social networking sites tended to fall in to one of two camps – the “hey, I’m here, anyone remember me?” consumer-oriented sites, or the “I want to extend my circle of professional contacts” type of semi-business sites. Those in the decision-making parts of the business sector tended not to be impressed by being poked by people having placed items on their fun wall, and consumers had little interest in Chinese widget manufacturers having researched through LinkedIn and finding that they would be a perfect match for being an outlet for the company’s goods.
But all of that has changed. The current darling of the social networkers, Twitter, is an interesting (as in the Chinese semi-threat of “may you live in interesting times”) mix of consumer and business broadcasts and more constrained responses that the business sector seems to be picking up on. Similarly, YouTube has become a major place for organisations to provide educative videos on their products, or viral marketing videos. Even Facebook has dedicated sites for companies and products, and has become a rallying point for market activists seeking to influence company strategy through Facebook hosted protests.
As new channels for marketing and customer experience management, all to the good. The reach of an organisation is now massive through using such sites, and there are no technical upkeep costs – someone else is providing the physical platform and managing the underlying software.
But there is one issue that is becoming more apparent. A social network capability under the name of the organisation is controllable. But individual accounts are not.
In the old days, an employee may have had a company mobile phone, an email address and a couple of other bits. Once sacked/made redundant/leaving, all of these could be controlled by the employer, not only trying to reclaim any hardware, but also reclaiming the underlying capability – emails were to the corporate address, telephone numbers under the corporate plan. Even if the employee was a known name in their own right, they had to start from scratch in the big wide world using new contact details.
Now, individuals are king. Some Twitter accounts may be in the name of the organisation, but the ones that are being followed strongly are those that are in the name of the individual – it is their thoughts that matter. While everything is going well, the organisation has a great synergistic relationship with the individual. The individual pushes the company, the Twitter followers are inculcated by osmosis.
But, here we are in a downturn, and companies are making people redundant by the tens of thousands. Mergers and acquisitions are happening, and people are moving around all over the place. All these social networking accounts belong to them – not to the business. Those who are following the individual carry on receiving the information without needing to change anything.
The ex-employee, once the darling of the company, now becomes an unknown force – they have certain knowledge of the inside workings of the organisation and may have views that the organisation may not want putting out in the public domain. The reach they had before is still as strong – and anything juicy will get re-Tweeted or posted, and they will gain even more followers.
Even employees get it wrong – look at the Waitrose, Virgin Atlantic and other cases where employees have made disparaging remarks on social networking sites – and these have been picked up and re-posted until the press come across them. Telstra, the Australian telco, has provided employees with a 6-page guide to use of social networking, and requires employees to apply a disclaimer to any comments that could be seen to be either pro or con Telstra itself.
And the further problem is that there is not a lot that can be done about it. Yes, employees can be warned and educated as to what is expected of them, and certain rules can be built in to the contract of employment. But with ex-employees, it’s a bit more difficult. They may have signed a confidentiality agreement, but how do you enforce it? Once the genie is out of the bottle, it can’t be put back, and the damage is already done. Only fear may win the day – write in to agreements that any redundancy payment is dependent on adhering to the confidentiality agreement: if broken, the company can reclaim all monies paid.
The world has changed – wherever possible, a business needs to be able to position itself through the social networking media as best it can, and needs to leverage the pull of its key personnel. But, educate wherever possible, cover as many possible problems as can be planned for – and make sure that you have a rebuttal team available to face down any untruths that ex-employees do post as individuals. But, if it’s the truth, no matter how unpalatable it is, that has to be one of the downsides of a more open global village.
Article taken from here