Why a social media staff policy is only a half measure

19 March 2013

Many companies have still not implemented any social media policy for their staff and when asked about it they say "we've not had an issue". However this reply that does not help when it's a weekend and the staff handling your social channels suddenly find that your company Twitter, Facebook or Linkedin account is being used by a disgruntled staff member. Nobody knows what to do or how to disable them as an admin user.  A recent article in the Financial Times[1]  nicely sums up the dangers of having no policy and shows how insider tweets at HMV were very damaging to the company.

Training matters
However it's training staff on how your social media policy works in practice that makes all the difference. Concrete examples of do's and don'ts can be much more helpful to the team handling posts and examples of why care is needed and the consequences of breaching the policy and how to put things right if mistakes happen.

Lack of security brings consequences
I've seen companies happily outsourcing their social media activity or employing staff to manage accounts without keeping track of passwords in a central shared, secure manner with multiple admin account holders. I've heard of companies losing access to valuable social media accounts as the staff member that opened the accounts had left the company and no one else knew the passwords.

The legacy of transparent responses
Many companies entrust their social media to junior staff members who are often untrained and do not think of the damage to the brand when interactions are handled badly. Often the quality of these interactions on third party sites such as Trip Advisor or other review sites will influence thousands of other readers. A well worded response to a negative hotel review may restore a potential guest's confidence in booking that hotel, whereas a defensive response may cause major damage to the chances of that hotel getting future bookings. In addition the reviews and responses could be on the review sites for years with millions of eyeballs reading them. Whilst you can now report suspicious reviews on third party review sites they may be less  responsive to your own mistakes. A second pair of eyes during drafting of replies can help quality and it's essential to follow the review site's detailed guidelines on how to respond.

Process matters
Alternatively you have a delicate PR situation on your hands and the junior staff handling the account does not know how to respond to negative comments as they are new to the job and nobody has given them training. Experience shows that negative customer feedback can be hard to manage on social channels.  Unless you have mapped out the processes for how it will be managed at each stage of the customer journey across your channels, minor situations can quickly become major issues. One only has to see how the negative fall out from the initial Eurostar handling of their train passengers when trains were stranded quickly became a PR disaster. They wisely sought help to sort it out and realised the power of video apologies from directors and rapid response to tweets helped to alleviate passenger stress.  Sometimes it is important to figure out how time critical the customer need is so that appropriate actions are taken. Someone complaining whilst in resort provides an opportunity to put things right whereas if they have already returned home the response may require a different set of actions.

A silo approach is dangerous
Integrating your social media processes into your customer relations modus operandi can be hugely beneficial. We have been involved in collapsing customer response times significantly as a result of integrating social media processes but often it means equipping staff on call duty with smartphones and ensuring they have phone coverage, which is not always easy in remote, rural locations when you want them to view the customer post so they can investigate. Often it's not easy to identify from a post who the customer is in order to take action and they can choose not to respond to your replies whilst a crisis unfolds in front of your customer community. It often takes a cross functional team approach to get the most appropriate actions in place when handling challenging posts.

Ensure you set community guidelines aswell as staff ones
Sometimes it's best to let the community handle the complainers and not jump in straight away, although you need to police abuse or conversations that quickly get out of hand. Anyone reading comments on the Yahoo news page can see the moderation in action when community rules are ignored. Make sure your community rules are visible on your blogs and social sites where possible.

The opportunities and the good news
There are several opportunities available to companies when social channel processes are integrated properly into the guest relations function. For example pro actively encouraging and making it very easy for happy customers to share their experiences on review sites can bolster your star ratings significantly and drive more bookings. From experience this drove a one star increase in ratings over a few months so it’s a worthwhile exercise.

I hope that the opportunities and potential dangers shared will help to persuade those companies that think they don't have an issue to consider the negative impact of doing nothing.  
 


[1] “Employers should be alert to the dangers of Twitter” Financial Times Page 2 Executive Appointments February 28th 2013

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Comments
Kathryn Bullock
Here's another link to a story today from Tnooz to show the dangers of not having clear staff guidelines on social media
http://bit.ly/YRXMSr
19/03/2013 17:02:34

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