Managing social media: alternative strategies


By Laurel Papworth

Last year, the local council of Bozeman Montana insisted that prospective employees hand over their Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo, Google and YouTube usernames and passwords. Job suitability was assessed after council staff logged in to these accounts.

Recently, an employer publicly blogged that she hadn't hired a prospective employee because of a dodgy statement made on Twitter.

While it is easy to assume that everyone who accesses social networking sites are Corey Worthington in the making (remember the teen that threw the MySpace party that ended up with police attending and on the evening news?), sites such as Facebook are actually becoming the communication tool of choice for Australians. More than 8 million Australians are logging into Facebook monthly and that number is increasing. Within the next year or two, it will become more common to trade Facebook details than email addresses.

Perhaps we should rename ‘social networks’ to ‘community’ networks as that term reflects more precisely how people use them. Can we really afford to ignore a channel that is growing (Facebook is expected to announce 500 million members soon) at a huge rate?

Will organisations that ignore social networks – to the extent of blocking them – remain culturally relevant to a generation that are now in their 20s and who ignore email and traditional media?

Developing a social media guideline is an obvious choice and one many organisations are investigating. Education rather than bans.

There are many resources online for what needs to be covered in such a guideline but how can it be implemented? As a top down, ‘these are the rules’ statement? As a document with lots of ‘don’t do this, don’t do that, oh and definitely don’t do this either’?

Don’t! Don’t! Don’t! Perhaps there is an alternative.

Here’s one suggested strategy for shifting from a firewall ban of all things social to a collaborative approach all staff can agree on and participate in creating.

1. Get business arguments for why social networks aren’t customer communities
Approach the stakeholders and ask why social media is blocked. Get all the reasons. They will include: waste of time; over-usage of resources such as bandwidth; inappropriate postings including copyright and defamation; job searching on company time; and so on.

2. Run PR social media training for whole company
Run a lunchtime session — with wireless to get around the firewall blocks if you have to – and call it something sexy. Find Out All About Facebook and Twitter! or What’s Cool, What’s Hot in Social Networks like Facebook! or Beginners Guide to Facebook! or Spy on Your Ex and Kids on Facebook! Whatever works and don’t forget the exclamation mark at the end. It’s what marketing/advertising people do, to make their copy interesting to read.

During this session, give case studies of idiots that tweeted about hating their new job, or updated their Facebook status about calling in sick when hungover. Demonstrate Facebook privacy settings – how to block stuff from public access. Show how easy it is to search for organisation keywords on Twitter so that the Invisible Audience becomes obvious. Go over all the issues in a fun, informative way.
3. Do a team building poll 
 At the end of your workshop/workshops/lunches do a group exercise. Put people into teams and ask them to rank/rate a questionnaire on the main issues. Mine have stuff like: please rate from low (1) priority to (5) highest priority; claiming to be sick yet putting up party photos on Facebook; badmouthing another employee on Twitter; and badmouthing anyone else on Twitter.

Let them argue it out. Should ‘no swearing in public social spaces online’ include ‘bloody’? Is Facebook private profile a ‘public social space online’ or is that only ‘groups’? And so on. Don’t forget to see if you can find out which staff members are blogging, on Digg etc. Nice time to start a social media internal audit.

4. Collect the survey, publish the results
Collate the results, and put it together as a social media policy. Distribute to the organisation and say “we, the company, decided this was our concerns and approach to appropriate and inappropriate behaviour”. Take the report to the directors and explain that the whole organisation has been trained in the issues, has collaboratively developed their policies and guidelines and require sign-off from the directors.

5. Punish vigorously
Oh ok, maybe not – but that time waster in marketing who sits on Facebook all day? And the drongo in accounts who posts up stupid photos of himself to company social media pages? Well, they haven’t just broken the organisation’s rules, they’ve broken the work community’s guidelines – that everyone participated and agreed on. Off with their heads! Or at least a warning and a reminder that it’s a group ideal, not just another stupid company rule. This upcoming generation wants to collaborate with their peers more than any other generation – having broken ‘group rule’ they will be embarrassed and willing to conform.

6. Rinse and repeat

Don’t run the lunches once… and that’s it. Run them again and again. Call them ‘More Cool Stuff on Social Networks!’ or something. This isn’t email policies that you can have them sign once when they join, then forget about for the next seven years. You need to update their skills.

If you have a very large organisation, put the survey on an internal wiki – call it a ‘collaborative knowledge management system’ to get it past the IT fiends. New staff can read through the survey, the outcome strategy and discussions around it to better understand the organisation’s culture.

In conclusion: obtain the senior management list of concerns; run social media training across the organisation; get the attendees to ‘workshop’ social media guidelines. Go back to the directors, tell them the training has occurred and the guidelines drawn up with the whole company buy-in. Ask for signoff and permission to distribute to company, ask them to disable firewall blocks and make sure you give them follow up – ongoing workshops, monitoring of lawbreakers and so on.

If they still don’t agree, wait it out. Organisations that choose not to engage when the rest of Australia is going for information won’t survive. Which means either the incumbent strategy leaders will be replaced with strategists who actually know how to reach and communicate in the new world, or the organisation itself will become culturally irrelevant.

Either way, you wouldn’t want to miss such an important shift would you?

Laurel Papworth is an online communities manager who runs social media strategy workshops for organisations around Australia and Asia.  

Click here to comment on this story 

Comment below to have your say on this story.

If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at  

Sign up to the Government News newsletter

Leave a comment:

Your email address will not be published. All fields are required