Businesses are just beginning to understand the opportunities that social media and social networking provide for engaging customers at a much deeper level than traditional marketing and advertising. Naturally, many companies are treading very softly in their social media experiments because it typically means allowing employees to go out and engage the public at a grassroots level and that usually scares the heck out of the PR and marketing departments.
However, the companies that figure out the right balance (skewed more toward openness) and train their employees appropriately have an opportunity to use social media to leapfrog in the market because they will be able to create stronger relationships with customers.
One of the companies that has figured this out is Intel. The company has created a Social Media department and offers training for employees who are interested in blogging and participating in online forums and other social media venues where they represent Intel. Intel has also recently published its "Social Media Guidelines" for employees. This document states:
"If you're an Intel employee or contractor creating or contributing to blogs, wikis, social networks, virtual worlds, or any other kind of social media both on and off intel.com-these guidelines are for you. We expect all who participate in social media on behalf of Intel to be trained, to understand and to follow these guidelines. Failure to do so could put your future participation at risk. These guidelines will continually evolve as new technologies and social networking tools emerge-so check back once in awhile to make sure you're up to date."
Intel also provides the following general principles for employees to remember when participating in social media:
- Stick to your area of expertise and provide unique, individual perspectives on what's going on at Intel and in the world.
- Post meaningful, respectful comments-in other words, no spam and no remarks that are off-topic or offensive.
- Always pause and think before posting. That said, reply to comments in a timely manner, when a response is appropriate.
- Respect proprietary information and content, and confidentiality.
- When disagreeing with others' opinions, keep it appropriate and polite.
In addition, the company offers some general "rules of engagement" for social media, including:
- Be transparent
- Be judicious
- Write what you know
- Perception is reality
- It's a conversation
- Create some excitement
- Be a leader
- If it gives you pause, pause
Any businesses and IT departments who are wrestling with social media guidelines for their employees, should take a look at the Intel document. It strikes a pretty good balance between maintaining corporate control while opening up to allow employees to become an army of grassroots brand advocates.
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Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks.