Below is Dennis Wolff’s current article in this week’s edition of Business in Vancouver newspaper.
The emergence of social media sites such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter has created a critical mass of users who are voicing their opinions online. With distinct online personas, individuals are not only more connected than ever before, they also have started to play a much more distinct role as consumers. User-generated business directories such as Yelp are evidence of who is really in control of brand perception. In an effort to stay connected with their customers, many companies were quick to adapt to this new reality by creating corporate profiles and engaging in social media marketing to build online communities and increase brand visibility. However, the emergence of social media has caused a paradigm shift in the field of corporate marketing and communication: Companies are no longer in full control of how their products and services are being perceived. In the age of Yelp, a brand is only as strong as the most recent user-generated review. Social media participation has become a key to the new reality of corporate branding and communication.
In its recently published Social Media Survey, Vancouver’s 6S Marketing Inc. claims that every second blogger in Canada runs a business blog. One third of these post on both personal and professional topics. The lines between public and private, personal and professional have become more and more blurred; with Generation Y joining the workforce, this trend can only intensify. While some companies have not yet formulated specific rules for social media participation, others have restricted their employees’ access to social media websites during work hours. From a corporate perspective, there are valid reasons to fear employee participation in social media platforms. Most concerns circle around legal uncertainties and worries of inappropriate comments made about the company. This risk-focused approach, however, ignores that employees are often the biggest brand enthusiasts of their own company. Such employees will naturally act as their employer’s ambassadors when participating in social media. Raving employees have the power to create an online buzz around a company that will help raise brand recognition while marketing their company as a desirable place to work.
To ensure that both employers and employees are clear on each other’s expectations with regard to social media participation, and to protect both the company and the employee, guidelines are essential. IBM and Intel are two prominent companies that have successfully developed social media policies that allow their employees to be active online participants. In the case of IBM, a blogging policy was drafted for all employees to discuss internally. After a quick corporate review and final edit, it found approval from legal. When Intel recently announced its new social media approach by publicly posting its guidelines online, the company received raving responses from the blogosphere and was praised for its commitment to employee empowerment. Not only does Intel allow workers to use social media for work purposes, it even encourages them to truly be themselves while doing so. The online buzz IBM and Intel employees have successively created speaks for itself and only suggests what enormous branding and marketing potential is to be unravelled by supporting employee participation in social media. And what can be more exciting from an employer’s perspective than turning your employees into ambassadors for your own company and brand?