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January 26, 2011

Tapping Social Media for Positive PR: Five Strategies for Implementing Social Media into Your Company's Strategy

By Heather Lutze, CEO, The Findability Group

As many companies have already found out, having a business presence in the social media communities — namely Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — can have a positive impact on the company's bottom line. Being able to connect with customers and prospects to build loyalty and community goes a long way toward positive PR in today's world, and social media marketing is changing the way customer relations take place.

One of the main questions businesses ask when implementing their social media strategy is, "Do we open this up to the company?" Some argue that allowing employees to access social media sites during the day will result in a productivity drain, and they encourage businesses to put web site filters in place and to ban social media sites from the workplace.

However, Australian scientists at the University of Melbourne recently published an interesting study that found when employees take time to visit websites of personal interest, such as social media sites, it provides them a mental break and actually increases their ability to concentrate. The scientists documented a nine percent increase in productivity among their subjects. As they explained, "The activity helps keep the mind fresh and helps put you in a better place when you come back to working on topic."

Additionally, realize that people don't work 100 percent of the time on what they're assigned to. They do other things, such as get a snack, go to the restroom, talk to co-workers, surf the web, etc. So they're giving themselves some distractions already. The question is, "Do you want to offer a suitable distraction, or let your employees choose their own distractions?" Clearly, giving your employees an acceptable distraction is the way to go, especially if doing so helps the company's bottom line.

With that said, you can't simply allow everyone to post to the company's social media sites arbitrarily. You can't rev the engine and then let go of the steering wheel. Rather, you need to establish rules of engagement. The following suggestions will help you do precisely that.

Put everything in writing. Detail what is and what is not allowed to happen on your social media sites. For example, you may want to specify such things as not sharing proprietary information, keeping all posts positive, not sharing client information, not divulging salary or benefit information, and not revealing any corporate intelligence. What you allow or disallow is up to you and your specific company culture. For example, some companies decide that they will talk about their clients and customers (with the customer's permission), while others feel talking about customers invites competitors to try to steal them. The main point for everyone to remember is that if you wouldn't post the information on your web site, then don't post it on a social media site. Make it clear in the document that if they break any of the rules outlined, their job is in jeopardy. Additionally, reveal whether HR is monitoring the emails, posts, and tweets. Have each employee sign off on the social media rules and place a copy in their employee file.

Start by giving social media access to certain people to test the waters, then open it to others in phases. Rather than let everyone jump in feet first, start by forming a social media committee. Send out an invitation to your staff for people to join the committee (make sure they know it's optional). Those who come to that meeting will be the best people to represent you on the internet. Work with them to help clarify the rules of engagement and to help define your company's purpose for being on the social media sites. Then, allow these people to become social media advocates for your company. After a few weeks, have them report back to you on what's going well, what they've learned, and what's not working.

After you make policy or implementation adjustments based on their feedback, open social media up to another group of people, and then another, until you have everyone on the sites who wants to be there. Don't force it on anyone. If someone doesn't want to tweet, blog, or do Facebook posts, that's okay. Forcing people to be your social media voice will backfire and cause more harm than good.

Make it fun. To get people excited about social media, have an internal contest. Give everyone (or every department) a promo code for something happening in the company, such as a special sale or event. Then, let people market to their family, friends, customers, and social networks. Whichever person or department has the most promo codes redeemed gets a gift or prize. It could be a catered lunch or even a day off. The point is to engage the company meaningfully so you can see some bottom line results.

One major retailer did this and had a $3 million bottom line improvement during an economic recession. This company never opened social media sites to its employees before. Now they're a believer in the power of social media marketing. So don't be closed minded in terms of who can be on the social media sites. Let everyone be a promoter of your company's products and services.

Consider your IT and other staffing needs. When implementing social media access company-wide, your IT considerations are critical. You're opening your company outside your corporate firewall. Therefore, make sure you're protecting your company's assets and work with your IT team to make sure you're protected before opening those portals. Additionally, while going doing social media posts can be a rewarding part of people's day, eventually you will need a full-time staff member to oversee your social media activities. In fact, within the next two years, every company over $2 million in revenue should plan to have that full-time position as part of their company structure. Big companies already have such dedicated positions in place; take your cue from them and start planning now.

Implement your social media activity and policy from the top down. Your company's top-level executives need to be willing to dive into the company's social media activities as well. If your employees see that the CEO is on Facebook and posting tweets on Twitter and blogging regularly, and that he or she is having fun doing it, your employees will embrace social media as well. No matter what the company size, structure, or culture, the use of social media needs to work its way down.

The Way of the Future
Contrary to what some people may think, social media — especially for business — is not a fad. It may morph and change over time, but it's certainly not going away. Those companies that embrace it now and get its employees involved will be the one to reap the most rewards. So set up your social media guidelines and gradually phase it into your operations. Not only will your employees' productivity increase, but so will your company's bottom line.

Heather Lutze has spent the last 10 years as CEO of The Findability Group, formerly Lutze Consulting, a Search Engine Marketing firm that works with companies to attain maximum Internet exposure. A nationally recognized speaker, she is the author of, "The FindAbility Formula: The Easy, Non-Technical Approach To Search Engine Marketing" (Wiley and Sons). Heather is a lead speaker for Pay Per Click Summit, and previously spent two years speaking for Yahoo! Search Marketing. For more information, visit www.FindabilityGroup.com.

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