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Sep 24 2009

Avoiding the ‘Glass Box’

Following my CIMCIG talk earlier this month (post), I have exchanged a couple of emails with fellow AEC social media enthusiast, Oona Webster, who works for Leicestershire-based Geosynthetics. She made the following point (reproduced with her permission):

‘The Glass Box’

If social media has the potential to extend a business’s marketing force to include every employee with internet access, then does this need to be met by a fundamental shift in a business’s communication, sales and marketing processes?  If so, I believe that this is where a large number of companies are going to get stuck in a ‘glass box’ which is the product of their own systems and procedures for controlling and processing information.

I really like the notion of the glass box, though I think it’s not just about social media.

From my earliest days in construction industry marketing (at consulting engineer Halcrow in the the late 1980s, for example) , I have been conscious of the potential marketing role of every employee. And since then, in all my in-house and consultancy roles, I have repeatedly stressed that everybody in an organisation can affect its reputation.

Before we had the internet, it mattered how we answered the telephone and how reception staff greeted visitors. It mattered that letters and proposals displayed good grammar and spelling. It mattered that our sites were safe and well-managed, and so on. With my colleagues, I was constantly looking at how our organisation might be perceived by other people – this, to me, was simply part of what PR and marketing was about (as well as the usual stuff like brochures, business cards, exhibitions, presentations, media relations, etc). As a result, through internal communications and by working with the human relations team on recruitment, induction and codes of conduct, we could strongly influence the company’s brand values of professionalism, integrity, etc.

Today we still need to adopt an holistic approach to marketing, with every member of staff aware that they are part of the human face of their business. The growth of the internet as a business platform has made this even more important. It puts the reputation of the organisation almost literally at the fingertips of every employee.

The need for corporate social media guidelines

For many organisations this is a frightening prospect, but it shouldn’t be. It’s time to give up ideas about controlling the message by limiting access to communication (even if you tried, it wouldn’t work – anyone with a phone or a computer, at work or at home, can now create content). Instead, it’s time to educate and train, to create social media guidelines (some examples here) that encourage all your employees to be responsible communicators, and perhaps even to reward your most effective ambassadors.

Corporate social media guidelines are invaluable to both employee and organisation. For example:

  1. Organisations will be protected from possible misuse or online misbehaviour by their employees.
  2. They can enhance an organisation’s reputation as being responsible, innovative, open, forward-thinking and communicative.
  3. They can give employees a clear statement of the organisation’s core messages, enabling them to communicate these to the outside world.
  4. They explicitly endorse the employee’s use of social media to support their role and to boost their professional network.
  5. They provide guidelines and best practice advice to help both experienced practitioners and social media beginners communicate responsibly.
  6. They can cover appropriate use of the company’s name and other branding in social media channels.
  7. They provide guidance on responding appropriately to incoming messages about the organisation, its products, services, people, etc.

The alternative is that businesses may – as Oona suggests – end up in a glass box which is bypassed by lots of conversations about them. Employees are more than likely already talking about your organisation (maybe in private Facebook groups or online communities). Customers have always been able to talk about you face-t0-face or by telephone, but are now comparing notes by email, on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, blogs, discussion boards, etc. And competitors will be joining these conversations, taking advantage of your non-participation, influencing their own reputation – and impacting on your’s.

[Image from Flickr by Ott1mo of David Blaine in glass box near London’s Tower Bridge in 2003]

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