Now, please tell me what is wrong with the quotation below. (And I’m not talking about spelling or syntax, smartarses, I’m talking about content).
“Some companies are training staffers to broaden their social-media efforts. At Ford, Mr. Monty plans to soon begin teaching employees how to use sites like Twitter to represent the company and interact with consumers.
Coca-Cola Co. is preparing a similar effort, which initially will be limited to marketing, public affairs and legal staffers. Participants will be authorized to post to social media on Coke’s behalf without checking with the company’s PR staff, says Adam Brown, named Coke’s first head of social media in March.”
This is from the Wall Street Journal – an article already mentioned on this blog – which witters on about how companies are using social media (specifically Twitter) to do something. I’m not sure what. On the face of it – to waste time, resource and budget. But hey! Maybe it’s just me.
But that’s not what this is about. (For once.) No, this is about the wisdom of letting your employees have free and uncontrolled access to the media which, in effect, is what the good people at Ford and Coke are thinking of doing.
Are they completely insane? As we all know, your people are your greatest asset and your greatest liability. As ambassadors for your brand and product, there is nothing more powerful than a vociferous and loyal employee – and here’s the important bit – that has been well-briefed and is on-message.
This is why internal communications departments exist – to generate that loyalty, to bring the workforce on-board, to maintain motivation and momentum – to ensure the messages that are going out are consistent and in line with company strategy and policy. This is why internal comms works hand-in-glove with external comms – and why all messages go past the external comms (PR) department – because anything said by anyone about your brand or business can impact on reputation. And it’s your reputation that you trade on.
In no company or organisation that I know do employees get to comment publicly, to an external audience (and I’m not talking mates down the pub, here) without being carefully briefed and monitored. In fact, in many companies and organisations, it is more than their jobs are worth for them to do so. Why? Because not everyone is as sensitive to the message and to reputation as those employed as guardians of reputation and, time and time again, through simple error of judgement, or naivety, or malicious intent, employees’ comments and actions in a public arena bring a company into disrepute. And then you have a crisis, and then you have some shit to shovel.
Example? Dominos Pizza (apologies, because I’ve used this example before, but – damn – it’s a good one) and the posting, on YouTube of video footage of unhygienic practices, in a Dominos franchise, by employees.
You simply do not allow employees free rein. You don’t. It is accepted.
Then along come the social media strategists. “It’s all about content, it’s all about dialogue, it’s all about the quality of the conversation” – free spirits in the digital age. Not for them the rules of the old guard – no, the rise of the internet and FaceBook and Twitter has changed the world and we must move on or wither and die.
It appears that their lobbying – and the continuing spread of Shiny Object Syndrome – has convinced even the most conservative of organisations (Coke, anyone?) that they should be allowed to let employees post directly to the social media sites, without passing the sense/health check that is the PR department.
I know – if anyone ever reads this (hello?) – that I’ll be accused, as a PR professional, of being miffed that I’ve been edged out of the frame and that stuff is going on without me.
Maybe. But I think this is a disaster waiting to happen. Time will tell. Personally I hope there’s someone in both organisations (Ford and Coke) who remembers what the real role of a corporate communicator is, and is powerful enough to perform it.
The real role of a corporate communicator is to look at stuff like this and say ‘no fucking way’. And put a stop to the stupidity immediately.