Define your corporate voice with social media policy
In last week’s blog post How do Strategic planning, Social Media Policy and the Recruitment Process interlink?, we made the point that social media policy will be a significant contributor to preventative measures in yourcrisis management plan. This is especially true for organisations that use social media proactively for public relations, marketing, or advertising activities as part of communications strategy.
Social media platforms provide an ideal communication channel to facilitate the two-way symmetrical model of public relations famously theorised by James Grunig (Grunig & Hunt, 1984). The intrinsic ‘social’ characteristics of platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, and YouTube make them effective and easy-to-use conduits for circular communication between an organisation and a public. These platforms provide a forum for cyclical feedback and comment interactions between parties, not just for content output.
Of course, we have to recognise the risk of such instant global communication. The vast reach of social networking sites can send one small human error onto a very public stage in less than a second. The newsfeeds we read regularly contain examples of these mistakes and the effect they have on a company. A backlash ensues when an organisation’s online words or actions deviate from the public’s expectations of the brand; this can easily escalate to crisis status via social media sites. However, if your social media policy clearly defines your corporate voice, there is a clear guide to avoid this kind of aberration.
A memorable example from last year was fashion designer Kenneth Cole trying to hijack the #Cairo hashtag associated with the Egyptian riots. In an attempt to promote his spring line on the back of the huge #Cairo following, he tweeted: Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumour is they heard our new spring collection is now available online…” Read more Kenneth Cole Tweet Uses #Cairo To Promote Spring Collection. The public response on Twitter and other social media sites was swift and damning, read more Kenneth Cole’s ‘punny’ Cairo tweet enrages Internet. Cole apologised quickly, admitting the tweet was inappropriate, ill-timed, and contradicted his goals. He also admitted there was no filter in place to cross-check his tweets before he posted them.
The first moral of this story: avoid self-inflicted crisis wherever possible! Communications staff typically carry a heavy workload and the additional crisis PR work required to manage a situation like the Cole gaffe is an unnecessary imposition. So, let’s consider how a social media policy can militate risk and circumvent poor judgement by developing a corporate voice that authentically represents the organisation.
Briggs Communications advocates for companies to have a social media policy in place to guide all employees who communicate with stakeholders using corporate social networking accounts. Among other things, policy should provide direction that covers tone, timing, and content. In developing this policy, public relations staff must carefully define the corporate voice their organisation will have. If communication on social media platforms portrays a consistent and recognisable corporate voice, it is a powerful technique that will build and reinforce the company brand.
To be really successful in social media interactions, language has to be conversational and the approach authentic and human. These interactions – tweets, status updates, comments and responses – happen in real time and there’s no time for oversight from the editorial eye that would normally be applied to an organisation’s communication outputs. However, a comprehensive social media policy will include a style guide to define the corporate voice and support communications staff who post online, bringing that voice to life.
Preparing a style guide is an important and significant undertaking. This document must be easy to read and concise. As a reference document, it should be written in plain English and organised logically in sections with an index at the back. This ensures the information is easily accessible to staff from any department. If your organisation’s line of business necessitates the use of industry-specific jargon words, acronyms, and references, include a glossary to explain these. This ensures new employees at your organisation, or sub-contractors and agencies not yet familiar with terminology, can effectively use the style guide and remain consistent with the corporate voice.
A style guide is vital for companies that have high content outputs and are proactive in the social media space. Staff in your organisation, particularly those in communications jobs, should receive training when social media policy is introduced. If the policy is to be an effective preventative measure in your crisis management plan, everyone who goes online under the corporate banner must understand how to apply it.
The maxim ‘think twice, publish once’ is a useful rule to keep in mind for online activity. A social media policy and style guide gives employees a quick point of reference for that ‘second thought’ when in doubt. From a strategic planningstandpoint these documents are important to shape a corporate voice that enhances the brand and that all employees can consistently reinforce.
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