January 14, 2010

Let's Debate It: Social Media and Email

by Kimberly Snyder, Director of Strategic Services

As Email Marketing Strategists at Bronto we are constantly finding new ways for our clients to utilize social media to lift their email marketing efforts – as Julie Waite highlights in her recent post: Growing Your List Via Social Media & Blogs.

We openly discuss with customers, on a daily basis, how to tie social media into their email marketing programs. Thus, when I saw the enclosed video post I found myself asking a question most of our clients will be faced with in the near future:

Should companies create social media policies for their employees?

Enjoy watching this very short but interesting video blog by Aden Hepburn on digitalbuzz regarding Coca-Cola launching their new social media policy. Think about the good, the bad and the potential ugly of it all.

I asked the same of our Email Marketing Strategist Team and found we all had slightly different takeaways, concerns, fears… that any corporation promoting their employees to be part of the social media mix needs to deal with sooner than later.

Kelly Lorenz

Kelly LorenzWhat's interesting here, and what Adam Brown touches on briefly in the video, is if employees find something on social sites that interest them to talk about it. I'm wondering what the impact would be, then, on employee's personal social networks. If I tweet on behalf of Coke during the week, but on the weekend utilize my own personal Facebook account, what are the implications? Am I still held to the 20 principles? I would think as the 3-page document touches on the topic of personal accounts the answer is yes, which has to be a bit scary for Coke employees as it would seem as if "Big Brother" watches and monitors all of their interactions.

It must also be a bit frighting for Coke (and probably why it took so long to push through) to allow this type of "free-flowing" communication from all ranks in the company. I think trying to control to this level could cause some great social media proponents within the company to be unwilling to participate for fear of potential consequences. There are so many potential land mines that if I were a Coke employee, I'd pass on this "opportunity."

There are a lot of companies that do social media well (hello, @Zappos) and it seems that they often have the CEO engaging, perhaps to set an example. I'm sure most companies with a social presence have some rules and regulations in place, but when you create a more welcoming and engaging environment, it really shows with your customers and has the potential to create true brand advocates out of your employees as they see that you trust them to speak freely.

Julie Waite

Julie WaiteThis reminds me of the hubbub on the internet in recent years about employees blogging about their jobs (anonymously or not) and being fired for negative or inappropriate content. Ultimately, the employers always won and the employee lost the freedom of speech argument. Similarly, there have been plenty of stories of people getting fired over Facebook and social networking site snafus, for example when they call in sick and meanwhile have photos posted of last night's raging party.

Can you be an individual, be yourself and also belong to a corporate organization, even if you don't "represent" them officially in the media? Methinks not, based on this evidence.

Kristen Gregory

Kristen GregoryI think when you opt to take a position as an Online Spokesperson for a company; it makes sense that you should have some kind of guidelines around your online activity. Obviously, as an official representative, your words and actions are visible to many, many people at once and records of any mistakes can more easily haunt you. I think it's valuable for Coca-Cola to offer some kind of support/best practices/codes of conduct in the social arena to these individuals.

As for other Coca-Cola employees, I also think it makes sense to ask that if they encounter situations online that involve the Coca-Cola brand, that they are careful to handle those scenarios appropriately. I do, however, get a bit concerned about big business forcing other non-brand-related behavior guidelines around social media.

Ultimately, the challenge with social media and with ourselves is that we are multi-faceted beings. I don't always want to wear my work hat, but I also have to be aware that people may be watching. At the same time, don't I have rights to my own personal accounts and freedom of speech in more private arenas (i.e. potentially Facebook where you choose your friends)?

At the end of the day, can you be the real you online without consequence? This is the struggle we face as we move to an online world.

I believe, without a doubt, that companies can and probably should ask employees to take specific types of actions when involved in brand conversations. Beyond that, I'd tread lightly.

Now share your takeaways.

Kimberly Snyder
Email Marketing Strategist at Bronto

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Kimberly Snyder, Director of Strategic Services

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