megaphoneAs more mainstream companies get involved with direct customer conversations in social media channels, who is responsible for the conversation?Two camps are emerging. Some believe that the more employee-enthusiasts involved, the better. You’re not going to stop the Tweets anyway so why try? Go ahead and enlist them for the good of the company. But do you really want every employee to have the authority of a company spokesperson?

Camp two is a traditional approach of command and control. One company, one spokesperson. But how is that even possible in an environment of instantaneous communication? Today, company news is not necessarily dictated by a press release. A rumor can travel globally over mobile devices faster than you can make a phone call to the CEO.

This issue is fraught with peril — yes, the more company enthusiasts the better. But are those the same people who will be defining your brand? What are the guidelines? What are the accountabilities? What if an employee unwittingly sets off a chain reaction of public humiliation?

Through traditional media channels, the guidelines were clear, the message was clear and the chain of command was clear. Despite the “come one, come all” freedom inherent in social media, I predict this same hierarchical structure will evolve to rule the social media channel in mainstream companies. The stakes are too high for brand integrity, corporate governance and SEC accountability to abdicate corporate communications to early adopters of the newest social networking platforms.

Corporations can’t control the network, but they can monitor what employees say and do and articulate consequences for those who step beyond well-established guidelines. A public company is not a democracy. Employees do not have freedom of speech. Watch what you Twitter.

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