Some of the most vehement arguments I hear against social media are from PR and marketing people. They say they don’t trust it because they can’t control what people are saying about them or the spin that may be put on their message once they release it to the webverse.

I’m here to tell you it doesn’t matter. Odds are very good indeed that people are out there right now talking about you, your brand, your product to or, at the very least, the market you operate in.

If you’re not part of the conversation not only are you missing the opportunity to engage in the discussion you are completely unable to manage an emerging situation until it escalates to a point you can see it from afar. If, however, you’ve got your ear to the ground and you see some mixed messages, conflict or bad image out there cropping up you have the potential to contain it or even turn it around with some well timed conversations with the people you’ve developed a relationship with.

Often times simply creating a corporate social media strategy helps people get over the initial fear of losing control. Sometimes it even helps with existing media campaigns by focusing the messaging even more clearly and allowing the team to step back and make sure they have all the tools they need to successfully communicate and monitor the messaging they distribute in all of their media channels.

SO. Let’s lay out the basics of a good corporate social media plan and how to build it.

Start with your team.

How many people can actively work on this and what are their time commitments and resources?
Identify the lead for each area of your strategy and make sure everybody knows who those people are.

Create clear rules for use and people start to relax. Especially if they are uncomfortable with the format, they’ll use the guidelines you give them until the get used to how it all works and they see those first results. They are also less likely to make mistakes. State clearly what standards of performance you expect. A little personal responsibility and some common sense goes a long way.


What existing messaging do you have right now?
Is it in a format that everyone who will participate has access to and clearly understands?
Do you have a branding policy?
Are logos, color and font standards clearly defined and available to the team whenever they should need them?
Are corporate backgrounders, CXO bios, whitepapers and other important data easily accessible?

Identify the dos and don’ts

Is there specific terminology or imagery that you want associated with your brand? How about the terms and graphics you don’t want associated? Clearly identify these and talk it over with the team. Are there certain topics that must have sign-off from a senior member to even talk about? Identify the go-to person to either direct questions from the outside to or to run sensitive statements by before posting.

I’m not saying you should strangle your team in what they can and cannot say. This is very hard to understand for many larger corporations where the legal department approves every press release and the PR department approves every statement on the website before it can go live.
Social media doesn’t work like this. If your statements appear to be canned or professionally produced it’s bound to fall flat. Let the team know the facts when a new product comes out or you reach a noteworthy milestone. Then trust them to put it in their own words.

How will you measure success?

ROI or ROE (Return on Engagement) are often hotly debated topics. How do you measure the value of a long term relationship? The value of a member of an extended network creating a new opportunity for you? Evangelists blossoming in places you never expected?

That said, you need to have some expectations of what you are going to do, how much funding and energy you’re going to expend to do it and how you will know if you’ve been successful or not.

I can’t go deeply into the ROI/ROE discussion here, but let me just say it’s like any other marketing or sales campaign. Success rarely happens overnight or without considerable advance planning. Taking the time to think about it and plan sets you up for a better chance of success. Whatever you are going to measure take some benchmarks before you start so you can clearly see whether progress has been made.

Identify your best platforms and tools

Do some listening to find the networks and platforms you need to be present on and who will communicate on each one(s). I always believe it’s better to start small and expand your social media presence as you become comfortable with the networks and the process. It’s also easier for you to manage and monitor your team.

Separating personal and professional

Keep in mind that your employer is probably listening for mentions of the brand online. If you choose to talk about company business while in your personal account on a social network make sure it stays within the corporate guidelines. If you wouldn’t say it in front of your boss why would you say it in front of thousands of people? The same thing goes when you are participating in a network as part of your business. You wouldn’t bring up deeply personal things in a board meeting, so why would you say them online?

Encourage transparency

If you have a number of people blogging or posting for your company figure out a way for each person to identify themselves.
The team at Dell each use a variation on their own name on Twitter followed by Dell. (@RichardatDell, @DellServerGeek, etc) while Coca Cola uses a simple initial for each person at the end of their post (jf)

Decide how people are allowed to represent the company

News agencies like the CBC direct their journalists to avoid friending their news sources on their Facebook page. It may seem silly they even think of doing so, but it’s happened. It’s also important not to list private information like home address and family data that could potentially put home and family at risk in the case of a political or criminal story.

The BBC differentiates how their staff responds to a post on a BBC owned site.

“It should be clear to users whether the site they are interacting with is a BBC page
run by the BBC for BBC purposes or whether this is a personal page run by an
individual for their own purposes.” In fact they strongly recommend that BBC blogs should be published on BBC Online and are under the purview of “Divisional Social Media representatives”

But on third party sites they say:

“For example, we should respect the fact that users on site X are not our users; they are not bound by the same Terms of Use and House Rules as we apply on BBC
Online. Attempts to enforce our standard community rules on third party sites may
lead to resentment, criticism and in some cases outright hostility to the BBC’s

Dealing with negativity

You are bound to see a negative comment or two at some point. How you deal with these is crucial to your success in the social circle you are engaging in. Sticking your head in the sand only allows it to grow un-noticed until it’s too big a problem to ignore. Neither does getting defensive and striking back.
Look at the recent palm oil incident with Nestle on Facebook. People actually boycotted Nestle for the Easter holiday season and a good number of the “fans” on their fan page signed up just to castigate them for destroying the rain forest!

Don’t let things get out of hand. Imagine that the person who is being negative is standing at your customer service counter with a compliant. What would you do? Turn them away without helping them or try to calmly and rationally explain the issue and correct the situation?

Create use policies for your forums, groups or blogs that state clearly and simply the rules for moderation. Something like “We encourage you to comment and we welcome all viewpoints, but please be constructive. We reserve the right to moderate comments and posts and remove statements of hate or vulgarity.”

On the other hand, just because a comment is negative don’t delete it as a knee jerk response. Is the comment valid? If so, perhaps it would be appropriate to thank them for bringing an issue to your attention and report back on how it was resolved? When you listen to and engage your customers like this they may become the best evangelists for you you ever had. They’ll tell everybody that you responded politely and helped them when they didn’t expect it.

Copyrights and attribution

Before using any images, video, music or documents found on the internet make sure you’ve looked for and understand the copyrights on that piece of work. Look for images that are under a creative commons license, purchase stock photos with limited use rights or request permission from the copyright holder.

In particular the digital rights management issues of the music and film industries is controversial and has led to a number of high profile lawsuits and fines. Best to avoid that potential nightmare by using only legally obtained and approved files.

In addition it’s important to understand the rights of written content online. Just because you found it on Google does not make it free. Using excerpts of content with a link to the original is generally accepted, but it’s a good idea to get permission for long quotes or excerpts.

Encourage user participation

Of course one of the goals here is to encourage your clients and online connections to engage and help you spread the word about what you do. This may take the form of user-groups, forums, blog comments or even blogging for the company. One example of this is the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles.
The hospital encourages parents and family of patients to share the story of their child’s experience, the care they were given or kudos for a staff member who went out of her way.
These stories humanize the hospital and allow the parents to help spread the word of their experiences.

Corporate strategies are not just for the big corporations. Take the Fellowship Church which has been blogging since 2004 and Brian Bailey who wrote a book called “The Blogging Church” and the blogging policy for the church staff. They recommend the following disclaimer on the staff’s personal blogs.
“I work at Fellowship Church. Everything here, however, is my personal opinion and is not read or approved before it is posted. Opinions, conclusions and other information expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of Fellowship Church.”

Relax already

All this sounds like work, and it is, but once this work is done you can kick back and have fun with it. Sending out stuffy announcements and press releases is not going to engage people and get them to want more. Have fun with your posts, show your passion. Set up a series of themes, maybe even an editorial calendar to keep things rolling and the ideas flowing. Don’t sell. Inform, entertain and engage.

Don’t forget to tell people

Take the time to have a meeting with your staff and go over the policies. Better yet, have them help you create them. They’re much more likely to buy into something they helped craft and a little perspective will add value.
Talk to your staff and listen to their input. Fine tune if you need to based on their feedback. When you have a new hire take a few minutes to discuss any questions and concerns they have.


Periodically take a step back and look at what you’ve been doing and the effect it has on your company and the public perception of it. Review how others are transmitting your message on their own networks. Does it sound like you’re communicating successfully? Look at those benchmarks frequently to see how it’s doing and where you need to do more or less. It’s natural for this kind of campaign to need tweaking now and again and to re-visit the guidelines as well as the strategy.

Corporate Social Media Policies

Janet Fouts is a social media coach, author, trainer and frequent speaker on social media and online marketing.

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