If you work at a company and you find that someone is talking to the media without authorization, well, watch out. We know that is not acceptable.
If an employee wrote blog posts under an alias so no one knew who they were and recommends your product, you would tell them to stop immediately. You might even fire them.
If an employee suggested that you ask customers to give testimonials for your products in offline ads without ever reviewing the product, you would throw them out of the conference room!
I will bet your policies are clear. Your ethics are strong and your instincts, your common sense, is right on target. You know what to do and how to act in the offline world.
So why are we allowing unnecessary risks to be taken in social media? Why are we allowing others who haven’t read your policies to gamble with the reputation of your company or brand?
Let’s think about how easy it is to conduct proper disclosure.
If an employee or your agency or one of their sub-contractors is speaking/interacting with online outlets, they should do this as part of your policies and umbrella of authorization. Can you say today you have that covered? Have you clearly communicated to everyone who works for your company? Do your agencies know the rules of the road?
If an employee writes about work related issues online, they must follow your policies. Period. No exceptions. Don’t need a Ph.D. to figure this out.
If a third party is giving a testimonial for your product in any online forum and you are paying for it or sanctioning it, you are certain they are following your company policies. You know what your vendors are doing on your behalf because your brand’s reputation is that important to you. You’re not “hoping” they are doing the right thing.
So what is reality? Well, the good news is most people want to follow policies and see themselves as ethical. However, I am continually made aware of examples, such as the following:
A company is allowing blog posts to be done reviewing their products, but its unclear if the bloggers actually reviewed the products. Ouch.
An agency is endorsing a new offering of a company but not identifying who they are. Wow.
Third parties are putting disclosure so low in a blog post that the majority of readers will never see it or realize a disclosure occurred. Why? Isn’t it more powerful to hear direct conversations from a company or it’s representatives that are honest, candid and real-time? What am I missing?
Here’s the key point. Nothing is more important than the reputation of your company and its brands. You can build tremendous value via social media for your brand, more than ever before. Social media represents the most direct and best way to build a long-term and valuable relationship with your customers.
Of course, you can also do harm if you do not oversee how your brand is being represented by your employees, your agencies, sub-contractors and freelancers.
Are you managing your reputation or are you a gambler? It’s worth thinking about.
All the best, Bob
Note: I did not use any links on this post, since my goal is not to out people or firms, but to have a conversation on the importance of this topic.