January has seen a spate of people tweeting things they shouldn’t – from Diane Abbott to Ed Miliband in the UK to countless people working for brands across the world. We’ve also seen a renewed debate in the UK about how the professions should use social media – notably about teachers befriending their pupils on Facebook.

One way that many organisations deal with this is to create social media guidelines but even more important than any guidelines you might right is the internal culture change needed to real to make yours a true social business.

Surveys in the UK last year consistently showed that between 35% and 40% of UK firms have no social media guidelines in place. And even for those firms that did, many employees claim that they do not know what they are. Guidelines are useful, but really they are just the starting point, something every firm should have in place. Much more useful than any social media guidelines is the cultural change you need across your business to really take advantage of the opportunities social can bring.

This change is broadly in two main areas: bringing your staff closer to your customers, and building your staff as your biggest advocates. Both of these are important tasks and done properly can start to have a real impact on your organisation.

1) Bringing your staff closer to your customers

In any organisation some employees are customer-facing and some are not; and only a few of those that are customer-facing really understand what a range of your customers are thinking. This often leads to a real gap in understanding between what your customers think about you, your brand and products, and what your staff think that they think. Maybe your staff think that customers are more critical than they are. Or that some things are more important to them than they are. Or even that customers like you a lot more than they really do. There are always gaps in understanding, and social provides a way to close this gap.

At the simplest level, all organisations could benefit from using real-time comments and discussions as part of internal comms. Show what people are saying about your brand on screen around your office or on computer desktops will begin to connect people to conversations. Analysing this and showing positive and negative trends and the topics of conversation will being to let people understand the weight of discussion and opinion online.

You can go much further than this. Rather than just showing real-time information to staff you can start to really connect them to customers. Develop an advocate programme not just for the external benefits that they will bring but also to bring information into the business. Have a formal mentoring relationship where customer-advocates mentor your key staff gives them a real role in the business and allows you to use your most connected customers and contacts to support your business. On a broader level encouraging each employee to build their own networks and connections online (be that through Twitter or through specialist forums and groups) will help them to be more involved and engaged and will help them to solve problems – giving them an extended team of people from which to source ideas and support.

Connecting your staff (be it passively or actively) will help them be more informed and help to focus your efforts on what really matters – the customer.

2) Building your staff as your biggest advocates

Your staff should already be your biggest advocates and you should be encouraging them to use social media to help them project this advocacy and support for your brand.

Many organisations develop complex and valuable advocacy programmes for customers and influencers online, but fail to develop similar programmes for their biggest advocates – their staff. Your staff care about the brand, and your products and are often emotionally involved in what you do and why you do it. Sharing this externally is valuable; getting them to share it even more so. Encourage your staff to build networks that are appropriate to them – if they work in product development they could build contacts through forums and groups with people who could help them. If they work in sales they could use Twitter as a way to build their own brand and reach out to people to fill the top of their sales funnel. And everybody across your business could connect with people using your products, in your industry or customers looking for help and advice.

You staff will be doing this already (whether you know it or not) and encouraging and training them to really use social tools will help their efforts benefit you more. Rather than them leaving a review on a product of yours saying it is great, imagine how much more powerful it would be if they went in and said “I was part of the team that worked on developing this product. We’re really proud of it and hope you like it too”. Encourage and enable them and make sure your guidelines are more about setting boundaries and providing support for this.

For many brands reach of your messaging and engagement is important. Your staff provide the single best vehicle to do this. Empowering, practically encouraging, your teams to all engage in social media will be good for their development and also good for you.

Original Post: http://www.freshnetworks.com/blog/2012/01/employee-social-media-guidelines-are-useful-internal-culture-is-more-important/