Those who engage in the digital world, contribute more or less automatically to communication. Even listing one’s employer on a LinkedIn profile can be an interesting statement for observant competitors. This applies even more to activities in specialized forums, posting of job topics and involvement of business partners, colleagues and customers in social networks. The boundaries are softening between private and professional realms as well as between internal and external communication. A mixture is forming, which has a lot of positive aspects at first glance. If enthusiasm for one’s own company or its products turns employees into brand ambassadors on their own mission, then positive resonance can be the result. This of course especially applies if the commitment is seen as part of one’s job and actively pursued during working hours. In larger companies, various departments (e.g., PR, recruiting and sales) may well discover the potential of social media for themselves and act independently of one another.
At second glance, it becomes clear that all autonomous activities have to be brought together in a single framework to unify scattered public relations based on corporate guidelines:
- Which information can be released and which can not? What are the critical issues and to what extent have employees been sensitized to this via internal communication?
- What are the objectives in the social web for the company as a whole? These should be clearly defined and communicated internally to ensure that everyone is “on the same page”.
- How should company profiles on the various platforms be created, named and designed to be visually uniform?
- How strictly should the risk of confusion between staff statements and individual comments be countered? Are indications of this explicitly required?
- How can the different interests of the various departments be brought together?
- Who in the company is responsible for social media as a whole and takes the lead in crisis scenarios? Has a contingency plan been developed together with the responsible departments?
- Who owns the professional (customer) contacts and followers that may have been collected using a private social account? At the latest when a socially active employee leaves the company, this question can play an important role and should thus be clarified before any activity is carried out.
- How much leeway should active employees have in their involvement? Every action and every statement is immediately visible to the public, competitors, as well as the press, and can be immediately publicly commented on and criticized.
- Are the employees familiar with the “Netiquette”? Are they aware of copyright issues when posting pictures, texts and videos?
Such guidelines should be quite detailed, but also take two things into account. First, the right to freedom of expression should not be compromised. Activism should be directed to a reasonable extent but not limited so much that motivation is lost. Secondly, social media requires experimentation, creativity and personal style. Thus, mistakes and failures are possible and must be permitted. This may require adaptation of the corporate culture and clear signals from the management. This is also part of the digital revolution.