It seems that so many companies are fighting to keep their employees off Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ out of fear of reduced productivity or a lack of control over how the company is represented in this new medium. In many cases, the official social accounts of these companies are poorly managed, and frankly, nothing more than one-way soap boxes intended to send information to the masses in drops rather than a stream.
It’s no surprise that these companies also fail at this approach — miserably.
While attending this year’s HP Discover conference, I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time around HP employees, VPs, and even quite a few passionate fans of the brand that have no direct affiliation with HP at all. One thing these groups all have in common is that they are actively participating in social media. So much so that “tweet me” has become the new “email me” and their accounts proudly include the HP brand whenever possible. How many companies can say their employees proudly use their brand in their primary social media accounts? Very few.
Granted, not everyone from HP’s gigantic workforce freely tweets about the company for which they work. The same might be said for other social-friendly organizations including Best Buy (with over 3,000 employees actively tweeting about the brand), Ford (for both encouraging and promoting social media interaction), and others.
So what’s the difference between these two types of social media strategies? Passion.
Why Silencing Your Employees Limits Passion
If I worked for a company that discouraged or otherwise restricted my ability to talk about it, or even answer questions about it posed in social networks, my passion for that company would be limited. It’s through our social interactions that we express a vested interest in seeing our company do well. If this interaction is forbidden, it hinders that ability for me to associate myself with or otherwise promote a brand I’ve chosen to put my name behind.
As much as a business depends on its employees to keep secret things secret, and not to tarnish the reputation of its business by talking about the job in a negative light or otherwise making the business look bad, the fact is that your employees are already on these sites. Why not empower them to share their passions about the company, and perhaps rally some interest in whatever it is they’re working on?
If anything, it creates a sense of ownership with the brand and/or product. This sense encourages the employee to do what they can to make sure the business is a success. Would you want to put your name behind something only to have it fail? No, and neither would your employees.
Social Media Interaction is a Form of Customer Service
I understand that marketing experts claim social media is little more than a marketing tool. It’s much more than that, though. It’s every bit as much a customer service tool. This is an aspect of social interaction that so many companies miss, and it’s detrimental to a greater strategy.
Think about it. How many brand names do you see on Twitter that don’t respond openly to customer complaints made on Twitter? Do these accounts get retweeted constantly? Do they do anything to help promote the caring nature of the business? Cold marketing leads to cold reception, always.
The best examples of successful social media branding out there include brands that are willing to resolve customer issues openly on networks like Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. Why? Because if you can resolve someone’s complaint, no matter how small, then you’ve created a promotional tool that money can’t buy. You’ve essentially scaled caring. With a tweet, you have answered a question that many others undoubtedly have. If a company I follow answers a question I have about some product, service, or policy that has been on my mind, I’ll retweet it and let my followers know.
If anything, you’re demonstrating that your brand doesn’t shy away from difficult situations. You take it on, and you listen.
Personal Accounts Make Your Company More Personal
It’s easy to see a company, large or small, as a faceless entity that neither cares about nor hears the concerns of its customers. I deal with many of these companies on a regular basis. You can tweet until your fingers are bruised nubs, but you’ll never get a response. The only employee with an account on Twitter is the CEO, and that’s just another one-way soapbox used to send out bits of information about whatever product is being announced at the time.
Nothing will impress an upset customer more than when your brand (or an employee of your company) replies with an offer to help when all that customer was doing was venting with no actual belief that anything would come of it. If your employees are empowered to take on customer service by way of their own social media accounts (not forced to, but allowed), this resolution becomes much more personal. Your company didn’t just help the client; Sandra in accounting helped that client. From that point forward, your company will be seen in a new light because of the personal touch that Sandra in accounting gave to that situation.
When I think about HP, I think about Sherry, Calvin, Melissa, Kristie, or any of the other folks who actively participate in social media on behalf of the company. Oh, and if you think their enthusiasm is played up for social media, it’s not. These folks are every bit as passionate about what they do in person as they are online.
This open and transparent interaction between employees and customers not only conveys the personal side of a business, but also the passion behind the products.
Whether you’re developing your own small company or leading a department within a giant corporation, the benefits an open social media policy can have for your business are impossible to ignore. In an age where your customers are saying more about your brand than a few well-placed ads, shouldn’t your employees (or at least some of them) be there as well?
LockerGnome is a small company. Its founder, Chris Pirillo, encourages everyone to be as active as possible on social networks. It’s through these interactions that folks find out about what we’re doing, and receive the kind of advice and attention that turns casual readers into passionate community members. After all, isn’t community the basis on which the best word-of-mouth advertising is generated?
Woman Pointing At Computer by Petr Kratochvil