How do you turn your employees loose

on social media without them going rogue?

We’ve all heard the horror stories of social media engagement efforts gone wrong. No brand wants to appear tone-deaf or insensitive with their employee advocacy efforts—or worse, to leave their Twitter account vulnerable to a disgruntled former employee.

With stories like these, it’s hard to deny that social employee advocacy is a double-edged sword. The things that make social engagement so appealing to brands—such as unprecedented access to customers, instant feedback, and a chance to engage on a more human level—also represent its biggest potential drawbacks.

The truth is that the benefits of social employee advocacy far outweigh the negatives. Now, if you can only convince the decision-makers in your organization of this. Here are three talking points that could help.

#1: Rogue employees and other social faux pas are rare

Everyone loves a good public blunder. That’s why brand screw-ups always make headlines. But the good news: they also rarely happen. Let’s take a conservative estimate of how many business-related tweets there are each day:

  • An estimated 65.8% of U.S. businesses with over 100 employees or more use Twitter for marketing.
  • Assuming 1.5 million companies of 100 or more employees (a very conservative estimate using Bureau of Labor Statistics data), that gives us about 987,000 U.S. brands on Twitter—a number that doesn’t even take employee-run channels into account.
  • Of those companies, 92 percent, or 908,040 tweet at least once a day.

In other words, at a minimum, just under a million branded tweets are sent each day. Of course, the number is likely to be much higher, considering (a) 61 percent of these brands tweet more than once a day, and (b) over 500 million tweets are sent daily.

This means that daily branded tweets are more likely in the 2–10 million range—and that’s still a very conservative estimate.

Here’s the point: out of these millions of branded tweets sent out each day, how many stories of social media faux pas do you hear about?

Not many.

Go ahead and see for yourself. Search for social media mistakes over the past year read through a few articles. While there are some variances, many of these posts just recycle the same social blunders in a different order. The truth is, your employees are far more likely to get things right than mess things up.

When you look at this way—millions of branded messages sent out each day and only a handful of screw-ups in a full calendar year—wouldn’t you say that trusting your employees with social engagement is starting to sound a lot less risky?

#2: Life goes on after a social media mistake

The social web is a funny place. While on the one hand it can be cruel and unforgiving, on the other it accepts that we’re all just human and bound to screw up once in a while.

Odds are, whatever happened is only a temporary setback. Social media users are more than willing to forgive our missteps now and then—as long as you and your brand respond to the issue with the respect it deserves.

While every case is different, most social branding experts agree on the following strategies to keep a social faux pas from spiraling out of control:

  • Acknowledge the mistake quickly. If you or a co-worker make a mistake and you get called out on it, indicate that you understand the mistake and are taking steps to address it.
  • Apologize (and mean it). A good apology not only shows regret on your part, but also shows that you understand what you did was wrong and why. Be sincere, authentic, and accountable.
  • Own the mistake and take steps to fix it. More than an apology, proactivity shows that you’re sincere in addressing the issue. Make your apology clear and public, and then outline what you are doing to address the issue—including changes to protocol to avoid future mistakes (see #3).

In our best-selling book The Social Employee (McGraw-Hill), we explore the famous “Too Fat to Fly” incident involving Southwest Airlines and noted filmmaker Kevin Smith. After Smith was kicked off the flight, apparently for being too overweight, he took to Twitter to complain. Southwest was quick to respond to the issue, engaging Smith first publicly on Twitter and then following up on the issue in a blog post. Smith accepted the apology, but perhaps understandably used other airlines for the next several years. More recently, however, Smith took to the skies with Southwest once again, documenting the occasion on Twitter and thanking the airline for the positive experience. See? Bygones can indeed be bygones!

Here, the initial mistake wasn’t made online (yes, mistakes can happen in real life too). However, once the issue escalated to social media, Southwest’s response offers a textbook example not only of how to handle issues on social media, but also that a high-profile issue such as this one can be handled responsibly in a way that limits damage to the brand—and that even reinforces its best qualities.

#3: The best defense is a good offense

Want to know the best secret to handling rogue employees and social media blunders?

Make sure they’re far less likely to happen.

Design your social employee advocacy program with a clear strategy, objectives, and protocols. Establish social media dos and don’ts, and—most importantly—train your employees in social best practices.

Here are a couple examples from The Social Employee.

  • Adobe has been a big fan of keeping things simple with their social policy, which they refer to as their social guardrails. Basically, they only ask that their employees keep a few things in mind: don’t post confidential information, be clear that your views are your own, be authentic and truthful, acknowledge and correct mistakes, welcome all opinions when engaging with your audience, and don’t defame or disparage others. And one only has to look at Adobe’s strong record of social advocacy to know that the guardrails approach has been surprisingly effective.
  • IBM took another approach that has also paid off in dividends. When it came time for them to develop their own social computing policy, they opened up the question to their employees, who used a wiki to produce a thoughtful, comprehensive set of guidelines. This helped them own the topic and wrestle with its nuances, building an organic and thorough understanding of social protocols in the process. Since then, those guidelines have been adapted, with permission, by over a hundred other companies.

The best way to get started with social employee advocacy is through a pilot program. As we explain in our LinkedIn Learning course, “Social Employees: The New Marketing Channel,” by starting off slow, creating a governing body, and by committing to listening, learning, and training, your organization will dramatically reduce the chances of anything going wrong. Keep communication channels open, talk often about best practices, and encourage employee feedback. By doing these things, your brand should be fine.

What is your brand doing to limit and manage social media slip-ups? Share your stories and strategies in the comments!


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