Too Many Wrong Messages On Social Media? Try Leadership, Not Control.

December 1, 2011 Comments
Too Many Wrong Messages On Social Media? Try Leadership, Not Control.

This month’s social business news brings one story, two surveys, and one product announcement that remind me how tough it is, even for professional advocates of social media, to walk the talk.

We say we want to create strong relationships with customers and external stakeholders, the kind of relationships that depend on similarly strong, thoughtful connections between the corporation and its internal members. Yet, when we see “problems” in our social media execution, the first recommendation folks make is to increase corporate control.

Whatever happened to increasing leadership?

The problem, current news tells us, is that organizations have “too many voices” aiming to represent them, and these many voices are not hewing to the corporate line.

Consider this story, by the Wall Street Journal’s Sarah Needleman. Needleman writes about how corporate offices of franchise businesses need to “police” the social messages sent out on Twitter and Facebook by their many franchisees. Too many franchisees are using social media in ways that hurt rather than promote the corporate group’s claims. Similarly, Jason Seiden reports on SmartBrief about his recent study of employees at the top 50 digital advertising agencies. Seiden found virtually no alignment between the ways these employees present themselves on social media and their employing agencies’ brand claims. Employees were not presenting themselves as having the skills and qualities that their corporations claimed to provide to customers.

Michael Britto reported here on Social Business News that although social media use is exploding, very few organizations are addressing their exposure to social media risk. For example, 3 out of 4 businesses using social media don’t have social media policies. And, Dachis Group announced a new product, designed to help dispersed corporations manage “rogue” social media activity by implementing a comprehensive monitoring program.

The problem is not rogue activity, but that the solutions posed to manage these many, disparate voices focus on increasing corporate control of members’ social media activity.

Pump up the governance, and lay down some control

What should we do when there are too many voices and not the right messages?

No one’s going to argue about the importance of having a social media policy that all employees understand and use. And, it certainly makes sense for corporate officers should have a central, up-to-date directory of all accounts used by people aiming to represent the organization.

But, while governance is important, governance is not leadership.

Instead of focusing on how to control of social media use and how to improve tools for monitoring and governance, the organization’s first response should be to pump up their leadership. This means clarifying their message, sharing the message with members, letting members modify and personalize the message, and inspiring members to share the message.

In a truly social business, monitoring and controlling our secondary tactics. Any governance or control initiative should be understood and rolled out only as a sidebar to a larger, more encompassing leadership initiative. That leadership initiative should be designed to:

  • Involve members in the corporate purpose,
  • Educate members about the corporate vision, values and goals,
  • Give members opportunities to personalize and contextualize their messages to their local situation,
  • Give members tools and processes for tracking.

One very simple example of a leadership-oriented approach to “too many voices” is to have local social media participants share case studies of their initiatives on the organization’s global intranet.  These case studies would include the employees’ own “after action reviews”, where they relate their online efforts to their overall communication goals. This kind of sharing makes it possible for any interested member to learn how to use social media well on the organization’s behalf.

Another example, from the Wall Street Journal, is the process that Naked Pizza uses with their franchisees. Naked Pizza “issues weekly ‘audits’ to its stores, focusing on how much they post and how well they convey the company style, and sends out suggested best practices.”

No member with initiative to tweet, post or update in ways intended to build business should be treated like some kind of feral cat, to be herded in when she or he gets out of line.

If employees are making “mistakes” on social media, that’s not the fault of the organization’s governance, but the fault of the organization’s leadership.

If your employees use social media to talk too much or not enough or not about the right things, that’s a leadership opportunity for you. Don’t concentrate on policing the perimeter with control tools and governance initiatives. Instead, lead from the core of your organization and help members learn to express the organization’s brand and demonstrate the organization’s values as they represent the organization.

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