Lifestyle

Should personal social media accounts be used for marketing?

Is it fair to ask employees to use personal Twitter and Facebook accounts to promote their workplace?

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(Photo: David Paul Morris/Getty)

When Maureen’s boss started tweeting about upcoming events at the non-profit she worked for, it was no big deal. Wanting to be seen as a supportive employee, she was happy to re-tweet and re-post the announcements on her personal Facebook page to spread the word. But soon the trickle turned into a torrent: there were dates for upcoming dragon boat races, survivor stories, calls for more donations—and her boss was asking employees to re-post each and every link. “I feel like I’m bombarding friends and family, but I have to because it’s my job,” she confesses. “There’s no punishment if you don’t, but then you feel like you’re not playing the game. Sometimes it’s just too much, though. I’m sure people have de-friended me over it.”

Employers who encourage all of their staff, rather than just the marketing department, to use social media to connect with the public seem to be doing the right thing in principle—for their business, anyway. In its 2011 industry white paper, Social Media Examiner reports that 88% of marketers find social tools—namely Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin and blogs—effective for generating business exposure, while 51% say social media has returned quality leads. “Asking who should be doing social media is like asking who should have a phone on their desk,” Warren Whitlock, co-author of The Twitter Revolution, told an industry panel at this year’s CES conference in Las Vegas. “Assume everyone is on social media.”

But the trick to getting an all-for-one social media strategy right is all in the how. New York–based consultant Michael Wertheim, principal of MVW Digital Ventures and a former digital director for Entertainment Weekly and The New York Observer, says it’s important for both managers and staff to see social media for what it is: a massive, sometimes boisterous conversation, not a soapbox for shameless self-promotion. “One of the biggest mistakes I see is businesses looking at social media as a way to disseminate their own information, instead of thinking about it as a two-way communications channel,” says Wertheim. “You should be asking questions of your followers. You should be listening to what they’re saying.”

The last thing an employer wants is for anyone to feel they must share a message, he emphasizes: “Ask your employees to ‘please consider’ re-tweeting anything that feels authentic to them—things they would share anyway. Or else you’re creating the antithesis of what social media should be.” Friends can tell when a message is insincere, and the negative reaction will be associated with your brand.

Jazmin Hupp, “director of awesome” at Tekserve, a popular Apple-only computer shop in Manhattan, agrees. The quirky job title puts Hupp in charge of Tekserve’s social media presence. “I would never dream of going to my employees and saying, ‘You must tweet this for us.’ But I can imagine creating content so interesting that they want to share it with their friends,” she says.

Hupp says that if you’re training employees on how to use social media, presenting a clear sense of how social media can pay off for everyone (see sidebar), and you’re still seeing low levels of participation, it may be a sign that your company culture is failing to inspire. “If people are proud of their jobs, proud of their companies and what they do, it’s natural that they’ll talk about their work on social media,” she argues. “If they’re not? Then you’ve got a couple of issues to deal with.”

SEVEN TIPS FROM THE SOCIAL MEDIA PROS

1. Begin by creating a social media policy that matches your company culture and risk profile

2. Be transparent about the company’s intention to monitor social media chatter

3. Don’t expect employees to dutifully and mindlessly share messages; allow everyone to be selective

4. Give employees training and a choice of platform; although Facebook is the dominant social media outlet, LinkedIn and Twitter are often seen as “public-facing”

5. Launch a company-wide contest to see who can get the most followers or responses; use cash or bonus vacation days as incentives

6. Give and take within the company; if you’re asking employees to tweet about work, for example, consider re-tweeting employees’ messages about their personal interests, like weekend fundraiser runs, art exhibits or music gigs

7. If you run a mission-driven company, mention specific actions in your posts. News about efforts to improve the world is more likely to get passed around