Archive for August, 2011


Monday, August 29th, 2011

It is the nature of social media that content, good or bad, can be shared and viewed almost instantaneously. This is what makes it such a powerful communications and marketing tool. It is also what makes it potentially very damaging to reputations, brands and bottom lines.

The real time nature of digital communications makes responsive damage control very tricky. Just  ask United Airlines who in 2009 got caught in the  social media turbulence created by a disgruntled passenger and his now iconic video, United Breaks Guitars and was unable to respond effectively.   The airline saw the value of its shares tumble by almost $ 200 million and its reputation take a hit it is only now recovering from.  

But managing external hits to one’s online reputation will be the topic of a future blog, today I want to look at one way organizations can protect themselves from self-inflicted online damage: social media policies.

In theory, it’s simple; most organizations have policies governing just about every aspect of corporate and employee behaviour. From the size of their cubicle, to what they can wear at work, to the type of car they can rent on company business, policies spell out what employees can and cannot do. So, why not policies telling them what they can and cannot do on social media?

In fact,  more and more organizations are adopting precisely those kinds of policies. The problem is that many of them miss the mark.

Effective social media policies should allow the emergence of brand ambassadors within an organization while setting boundaries that facilitate engagement by providing a knowledge safety net for staff and others.

The difficulty in implementing effective social media policies lies in the very essence of social interaction: spontaneity. Throw up a wall around what people can say or do online, and you limit spontaneity and genuine interaction.

This may not be a problem (and in fact may be seen as a good thing) for a company that sees social media as something that should be managed and controlled. But for organizations that recognize the potential of employee and associate online engagement, developing policies that do what they’re supposed to do is a priority.

A few months ago, while developing a social media policy for a client, I stumbled on a great–if somewhat dated– social media policy database that provides examples of the best and the worst policies around.

I found the best policies to be the ones that eschewed highly prescriptive language and focused on four things: trust, clear principles, common sense and simple rules.

Like most corporate policies, rules governing corporate social media use cannot cover every contingency or situation. The best policy is one that rests on clear principles that empower and guide the exercise of discretion by staff and others, while providing clear direction in critical areas. 

Policies that are too stringent will only serve to discourage online interaction or render it stilted and lacking in spontaneity. At the end of the day, how can an organization expect its employees to become effective brand ambassadors if  social media policy is so prescriptive, they feel like they need to consult a lawyer before they tweet?


Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Government of Canada has issued a request for proposals inviting firms to bid for the opportunity to lead a “whole of government” re-branding of the federal government’s image in everything from newspaper ads to  its Facebook pages. The government is looking to refresh its brand to better compete ” in a crowded market of images and ideas”.

Good luck to the winning firm.

Anyone who has been involved in these exercises will tell you that effective branding needs to be more than skin deep and has to reflect an organization’s true culture and values. And when an organization’s struggles reflect an out-of-date culture and values, a sound branding exercise will create a forum for hashing out a new vision.  Otherwise, all you’re doing is covering up problems with a fresh coat of paint.

Unfortunately, in many cases that’s exactly what happens as changes to an organization’s visual and audio identity become a proxy for real change, and are often designed to resonate more around the boardroom table–where decisions are made–than among its audiences.

Given the complexity and scale of the organization involved and the multitude of audiences-domestic and international–it engages with daily,  it is difficult to see how the current project will come even close to creating a synergistic and truly fresh “whole of government” Canada brand.

That’s where the boardroom (cabinet) table comes in.

But while the exercise may result in understated changes more than radical re-engineering, it merits monitoring for the lessons it will provide.

Notably, it will be interesting to see how this re-branding exercise affects the federal government’s approach to social media,  which can now best be described as cautious. It will be particularly interesting to see if it affects how content is generated.

One strategy the government could take from the playbook of many of the world’s leading brands is encouraging community generated and inspired content.

These brands know that good social content is what brings people to your site; jump starts conversations and amplifies messages. And they know that effective social media engagement is a bottom up process that starts with listening to your community.

If the Government of Canada wants to truly revamp and make more relevant its online brand it has to take the lead from its communities and generate content that resonates with them, meets their needs, is fresh, and–dare I say it–even a little bit edgy.

Fundamentally, it will require a new take on social engagement–now that would be re-branding success.