Stop shoving social media down my throat

It’s time to step up and address one of the great myths pervading the social web — that an essential best practice is decentralizing social media marketing and pushing it down to employees at every level of the company.  This is a philosophy that sounds good, but is often detached from practical reality.

I have been immersed in the social web for more than three years. It’s a big part of my job.  I teach about it. I consult about it, and of course I write about it. And here is a conclusion that I can confidently make: Social media marketing can be very, very difficult to do successfully.

Why force social engagement?

So why do so many people insist that we should be shoving social media down the throats of employees at every level of the company?  This is like forcing me to do accounting.  It would not be a good fit … I just don’t have that mindset.  Not every person has the right mindset, ability, or openness to succeed with social media but that doesn’t mean they can’t still fit in your company.

Of all the people I interact with on the social web, I would say I am most in-tune with Jay Baer. He is a true intellect and I highly recommend a regular dose of his blog Convince and Convert. But we disagree somewhat on this point.

I’m not picking on Jay … his viewpoint is widespread.  But his recent post Speak No Evil – Why Trust Isn’t a 4 Letter Word in Social Media, is a good focal point for the issue.

A hiring problem?

Jay concludes that “it’s everyone’s job to represent the company on the social Web” and that if you don’t have employees who can represent you, “you don’t have a social media problem, you having a hiring problem.”

The underpinning of this hypothesis is that every employee should be both skilled and trustworthy on social media or you are not running your company well. This logic gets further twisted for me with claims that people are communicating stupid things to the outside world in emails any way … so why not trust them to put it out into public on the social web?  Seems like apples and oranges. Emails don’t go viral.  Just ask NFL player Rashard Mendenhall.

Should everybody tweet?

Jay uses the example of Mendenhall and his recent litany of tweets that were outside mainstream American thinking.

Let’s look at the Mendenhall example. Yes, he was out of step with mainstream thought.  But who isn’t to some degree? The man was hired to carry a football toward a goal line, not necessarily to “stay on message” during a news event.  So did the Steelers make a “hiring mistake” because he sends out stupid tweets?  No.  The guy is one of the best football players on earth.

Part of the “social media is for everybody” myth is that we should humanize our companies — trust people to be themselves and everything will be OK. Again, this is just too simplistic and disconnected from reality. You just might get what you ask for, as the Steeler ownership discovered.

I work with an extraordinarily gifted man who is one of the best sales people I have ever met. He is kind of “folksy,” maybe even leaning toward redneck.  But he is a perfect fit for his marketplace and there is nothing he would not do to serve his customers. The man is a star and he has single-handedly built up his business — he’s probably the most valuable employee in the whole company.

Putting this fella into the public social media spotlight 140 characters at a time would be a disaster.  I imagine his tweets would come across as incredibly embarrassing — taken out of the context of the individual and his environment. Does this company have a “hiring issue?” Of course not!  His customers understand and love his quirky humor but that doesn’t mean the whole world would.  Here is what I would say to him — “You just keep selling your heart out buddy. Don’t worry about Twitter.”

Uniform political correctness is impossible

When consultants pontificate that every employee should have enough common sense to be on the social web, what they are really saying is we need to hire people who are always politically correct. Which of course will create the most boring, ineffective companies — and who would even want to work there?  Not every employee has good judgment about everything — especially when we are turning them into public spokespersons.

Before you drink the Kool Aid on this perspective of “cover the world with social media,” ask yourself one question. Think about some of the best bosses and employees you have ever had. Would they take naturally to the social web? And if not, does that make them a bad hiring decision?

Let’s put this into a practical context

Theoretically I agree with Jay. But I think applying social media effectively requires business sense and balance. We wouldn’t force everybody into a sales role. We wouldn’t put everybody into the glare of the six o’clock news in a PR role. Why would we set an expectation that everybody should be able to have a role in social media or that is a sign that we have a “hiring problem” if we don’t?  Being adept at social media is NOT EASY for everybody. And we should be able to live with that human diversity.

Instead I think it makes sense to encourage social media participation in the context of the goals of the company, the available resources, the competitive environment, and the talents of the employees:

  1. I agree with Jay that the PR or marketing department hasn’t cornered the market on social media greatness. Certainly employees can become online “beacons” for your brand, but don’t force them to do it or dismiss it as a “hiring problem” if they don’t want to blog or participate in Twitter.
  2. Acknowledge that social media participation is going to occur, sanctioned or not.  An explicit social media policy is a must.
  3. If employees do want to be formally active on the part of a company, give them the training and guidelines they need to do it well. Explain how it connects to strategy and the implications of representing the voice of the company.
  4. With the increasing importance of social participation, start adding this to the job requirements of new employees, if that is key to their role in the company.  For example, I certainly would not care if a star engineer doesn’t want to blog. You know, some people have to be about the business of actually making stuff.  Again — “context.”

What do you think?

So I absolutely recognize and appreciate the opportunity that Jay and others put forth, but I think this nuance is important —  It’s not that everybody SHOULD be a marketing voice for you company. It’s that everybody COULD be a marketing voice for your company depending on context.  This approach simply recognizes human diversity and that an employee can be extremely valuable … even if they don’t participate in the social web. What do you think?

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  • Good stuff. I’m reading Jay Baer’s book right now and thought the same thing. From the “inside” – aka from the perspective of someone who loves Twitter, Facebook, etc – those who don’t participate in Internet social media seem out of touch and behind the times. Maybe it’s true, maybe not…but that doesn’t diminish their value to their employer and co-workers.

    That said, If you want to embrace the kind of open, social communication that people like Jay Baer endorse, you need the assistance of a good number of your employees simply because that’s the only way it can scale. But demanding that all employees participate is a recipe for disaster.

    Let those in your company who want to be part of it know that their efforts have your blessing. Train them to avoid problems. And those who don’t want to be a part of it should also know that you are fine with that. Maybe they will want to become part of it later, but forcing it on them is not going to do any good, and diminishing their value as employees is a bad move.

  • Mark,

    I agree 100% with you. I have three bosses, and one of them would be completely wrong for social media. His views on life would be far too controversial. Besides that, he speaks in a manner that is so technical, he can be difficult to understand. He would be a very poor choice, especially for something like Twitter.

    He also “likes” things on Facebook that make me shudder. I have spoken to my other bosses and I was told to leave it alone. We will see what happens with that.

    Some temperaments are not right for social media. I agree that pro athletes are there to play a sport, but – when you have endorsements common sense MUST tell you that if you really have strong opinions about politics, religion, sex – it is best to keep that stuff OFF Twitter. No one is asking this man to be a genius, but not every viewpoint needs to be shared online. That is why we have friends – if we have no friends, we can go to the bar. The bartender will be our friend.

    I guess that what I am trying to say is that no matter what our job is, we do need to be concerned about the message we are sending. If I would not say it to your face, I probably should not say it on Twitter.

  • I have a theory that I am working on and just presented in a speech last week. It revolves around this idea of “layers” of engagement. Our employees, and out customers, are locked into certain layers and as companies we have to be prepared to recognize that. For example, 40% of Americans are not on the Internet. So we have to reach them in a different way. Of the 60% on the internet, a percentage are active on the social web and we have to reach them there.

    There are more layers to come. Some customers and employees will make the leap, some won’t. We will have to be prepared to work with these folks wherever they may be.

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment James.

  •  Hi Mark.
    I like this article, I like your says.
    But I think every company has a “personal” impact on its employees.
    Many experimentations had already demonstrate the value of an engagement strategy and we are at the same cross of the media channels as we’ve been 50 or 60 years earlier.
    The fact is the real time reinforce the needs of the company to show on the front row.
    And all the manies of the world are now mostly concerned.

    Thus to persuade people to enter into a linear approach to help raise awareness and increase social behavior there another dimension to consider : the humans are not evolving as fast as technology !!
    So it will take time to scope but patience can bring intelligence…Well done Mark !

  • I can see both sides. Rightly or wrongly, it is in everyone’s contract that they represent their employer with EVERYTHING they say and do, even in their own home. Don’t believe me? Go check yours.

    But you can say exactly the same thing on a doorstep to a family as you say at a conference hall and both will constitute a completely different way of representation that organisation. This is because what people say contains a meaning that changes as your audience changes. This is called context. So it doesn’t follow that poor and sackable communications on the social web would also ALWAYS be poor and sackable in all other contexts. 

    The score therefore is Baer 1, Schaefer 1. A draw.

  • Whether you’re an NFL football player or a no-name desk jockey, you are a representative for groups with which you associate: your employers, your family, your circle of friends, and so on. That does not change whether you’re giving a speech on national TV, sending a private email to one person, or tweeting.

    If you pop off in any medium and it is – or becomes – public, that might be a problem for one of those groups with which you are affiliated…whether it’s your explicit job to represent them or not. The reality is that you just do, so if it does happen to be your employer for whom you cause an issue, they might actually have a hiring problem, or at least a training and policies problem.

    The fact is that employers do need to be conscious of how their employees’ actions will reflect on them, but that they also just can’t know everything, so they need to plan (eg. have an explicit social media policy) and be ready to adapt when a new situation arises.

  •  This is an important point. Everything communicates.  I know that this is very anti-social media but I happen to think that who you choose to represent your brand is IMPORTANT.

    In the case of your company, your executive leadership recognizes the value of the one employee but knows enough to keep him AWAY from social media. Hey, that’s smart business.

    Thanks for helping to flesh out this idea! 

  • Of course it is great, when every employee is a real fan of his/her company. That does not mean that he/she is an official representative. I agree that not everybody should use Social Media as an official part of the company.  There have to be people officially responsible for Social Media and its contents and the less the better. Nevertheless you cannot forbid your employees to tweet. But that is not the official voice. Kind regards from Germany Hansjörg 

  • “Humans are not evolving as fast as technology” I like this very much Yael.  An excellent perspective and I agree with it!  Thank you so much for commenting today!

  • This is a very wise point Michael but you’re right that it is all about context.  It’s also about strategy. Should we really worry about the ENORMOUS effort it would take to get every employee up to speed on the social web or simply encourage those that have a knack for it?  Like anything, we can;t make a blanket recommendation. It all gets back to strategy.

    And P.S. — I’ll take a “draw” with Jay any day! : )

  •  Well said and I agree. Thanks Eric.

  • Anonymous

    Context and balance are key, but I’m leaning tirades Jay’s camp and here is why: Using the social media tools needs to be a part of everyone’s job just like sending email and talking on the phone are part of our jobs.
    I deal with people every day that are horrible at responding to email so I call them. And vice versa. Plenty of people are good at their jobs but have a bad phone manner. Someone who isn’t stellar at using social media wouldn’t be in charge of outreach or customer service bit they need to have a basic understanding of it and be coaches to be better just like the Bad Phone Manner Guy needs to be.
    To your point; Context and balance.

  •  I’m somewhere in between you and Jay on this one!   If Jay says, push it down to everybody and you say, push it down to nobody, I am contending that it’s smart business to leverage all the available marketers you can — and that potentially includes employees from many disciplines — but just don’t force them to do it.   Thanks, as always for your insights, Hansjörg!

  • Mark,

    It’s definitely an interesting subject with lots of food for thought, so I’ll share mine with you. For the longest time when I was working on Flightster and Cheapair’s social media efforts, I wanted our CEO to tweet or blog. I kept telling him that he would see angles that I won’t see because I’ hvae tunnel vision since I live and breathe this on a daily basis. But as I spent more time working on all of their social media efforts, I realized that I’m really the digital storyteller behind the organization and it’s up to me the draw the information out of him and the people around me. In fact I’m telling the stories of the organization and the people around it.

    On the flip side of that is when somebody tries to outsource social media. I’ve been doing some work with a real estate group in Costa Rica. I’ve helped them to setup a blog and developed a thorough content production plan for them. But the content itself would be much better if the people running the organization were the ones writing it. They’ve lived  and breathed the organization for the last several years.

    I think that you really need a balance. One of the things I learned with Cheapair is that our CIO is hilarious and I watch his Facebook updates and  think “we should have him contributing to our social efforts.” SO maybe rather than shoving it down people’s throats, you give them the option to participate in social media on behalf of an organization. I’m not sure we can say that one way or the other is right because every organization is different. That’s why I’ve said there is really no formula for all this. 

  •  Lisa, I think you uncover a very important angle here: social media as every day communication tool.  I have to agree with you here. In the context of many jobs, especially customer service, this will be a must have skill. Well done. Excellent point.

  • I think that supports my point.  There is no formula. It depends on the goals of the company, the available resources, the competitive environment, and the talents of the employees.  Your examples illustrate this well. Thanks Srini!

  • Anonymous

    Desire, training and context – totally agree, these three are the crux of the matter to me. One thing not discussed here, or much elsewhere, are the issues involving those who tweet or blog at publicly traded companies. I think there’s more than a small chance something tweeted could be considered “insider information,” which means guidelines need to be built with Legal and Finance team involvement. That also means a potential for bland, boring, corp-speak social engagement. Do you have examples of folks who do social media for a public firms well, while reducing the chances for a legal issue?

  •  What it gets down to in that case Lori is a well-defined and well-understood social media policy. I agree that it is very complex.  A local CEO tweeted off-handedly that he was in a meeting with banks in NYC.  This turned out to be an SEC violation and he got slapped for it. Even at the top, the risks can be great.

  • I think where you end up at the end of this post is how I originally interpreted Jay’s post. We don’t all need to use Social Media, and that goes for people and businesses. However, we all * could* use Social Media.

    The issue that I find more disturbing is the pressure put on companies to use Twitter and Facebook because “if you’re not, you’re not going to succeed.” There needs to be a lot more emphasis on planning, research, and setting objectives before we can make broad statements like that. I think once that gets stuck in peoples’ heads, the individual use of Social Media will follow.

    Excellent post – you got my hamster running! 🙂

  • Well, if I got the hamster running, my job is done here for today : )

    Any time i see an absolute, like the “hiring problem” statement, the hairs on my neck start to rise.  A well-known blogger tweeted the other day (not Jay or Amber) tweeted the other day: “If your company isn’t using social media, you don’t know your company.”  That type of arrogance just drives me crazy.  Ummmm .. what about Apple? : )

    As consultants and thought leaders I would like to see a more humble approach where we assume the experienced and successful company leaders know their businesses more than we do : )  Perhaps we can help them optimize the situation. Oooooh. You got me on a tangent!

  •  wow. many typos in my comment. towards not tirades. Damn that auto-correct on iphone!! : ) Thank you, Mark. This is a good conversation!

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  •  The suggestion that employees in any way be required to “represent the company on the social Web” via their personal accounts is preposterous.

  • Great POV – but unless social media exposure is somewhat a part of their job. Everyone should be social media savvy – but no one ever should start a blog just because “Tumbler is such a great blogging platform!”  

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  • Great points about the numbers of people not on the Internet, and also about the ones that are on the Internet who are not engaged with social media. It’s still the case that the vast majority of the contact we have with our customers on a daily basis at work is via the phone and email. And I work at an Internet services company.

  •  Hard to believe but I was talking to a guy the other day who said that most of his customers did not have an email address!

  •  In defense of Jay, I actually think that leveraging as many people as possible to be a beacon for you brand is a worthy goal.  I just get scared when it starts to sound like an absolute. These things have a way of taking on a life of their own, especially when it comes from a respected blogger. Thanks very much for your comment Jeff.

  •  Thanks for your perspective.

  •  I don’t think every employee should be a part of a company’s social media strategy.  Employees are best used when you align their work with their strengths.  Some employees might be brilliant, but are not the best communicators.  That is alright.  Put them in a role where they can succeed. 

    As a lawyer for a corporation, I spend a lot of my time creating a team of negotiators for deals I am working on.  I need to find engineers who have great communications skills.  Engineering is complicated, and only a few can take complicated ideas and communicate them effectively to business people. 

    I think that companies who take a one size fits all approach with their employees is doing a disservice to themselves and their employees.

  • Everything you say online is public and may eventually be distributed or pulled from the abyss, showing your individual or corporate ineptitude. That is why every nearly every employee must begin to understand social media and be aware of the implications of their behavior.

    Does that mean they must blog or be on Twitter? No (although I wish twitter would replace email, the 140 limit would be refreshing). But IF they are, they need to realize their statements and interactions are in public.

    I saw a snarky comment made on Twitter following a phone interview by a candidate. In my view, this person didn’t understand that comments are in public and the implication that had (it killed her shot at the job, despite otherwise being an interesting candidate).

    When we live in public, we have to realize we are in public and behave accordingly. That is why employees need to understand boundaries in social media before participating. But if you choose to stay on the sidelines, ok. Just don’t step into the game before you are ready.

  • I firmly believe that employee ambassadorship has to be completely organic and done without any outside influence whatsoever. Anything else will easily be detected as forced, manufactured and/or artificial.

    Companies don’t ask their employees to send out email to their friends pimping their company/product, why should Twitter or Facebook be any different? These are personal social graphs, not assets to be co-opted by a person’s employer under the guise of being a “team-player”.

    Employees who genuinely want to reach out to their graphs will do so when and where it feels right to them. But the path of “leveraging” employees’ Social Media presences is a slippery one full of unintended consequences, and IMO a strategic mistake.

  • Long live choice, “human diversity” and opportunity!  Well said MarK ; )

  • SteveBoney



    Point 3 in your summary bullets …”give them the training and guidelines they need to do it well.  Explain how it connects to strategy and the implications of representing the voice of the company.” is critical.  Too often we provide our employees with communications technology and we even give them the nuts and bolts training to mechanically use the technology (think voice mail and e-mail)  However, what most companies seldom do is provide contextual training so people know what to do with the technology to make it most effective and the impact that ineffective use can have on the company, in real and measurable terms.   It still boggles my mind today that 17 years after sending my first e-mail, there are a lot of people who don’t know the difference between Reply and Reply All.  

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  •  This is an extremely interesting perspective Jeff. Certainly a valid point of view. I think there are hybrids. A famous example is Zappos. They encourage employees to blog on behalf of their company. is it strictly their job? No.  Does it leverage their personal social graph, yes. Are there guidelines? Absolutely.

    Another example might be companies trying to present a uniform image on LinkedIn. Do they have the right to suggest common language?  Strategic approaches?  Does this infringe on the personal graph? Should they pursue it? Probably.

    There are few absolutes! : )  Your comment and thinking are most welcomed. Thank you!

  •  Well said, Fred. Thanks so much for bringing you personal experience into the dialogue! Superb comment.

  •  I think Jay and I would both agree with you on this one!  Thanks for the dose of reality.  Much appreciated, Eric!

  •  I really think it does get down to diversity.  I guess I have always had a tendency to be an advocate for the underdog, and that still plays out on the social web.  It is hard to keep all this stuff straight. Let’s not penalize people if they can’t do that well. There is another place for their talents.

  •  Ha!  Way to bring that point home Steve!  We could all use some social media sensitivity training.  Thanks for the great comment.

  • I think the keyword should be ‘encourage’ – to encourage employees to take up social media and to be advocates for the company. They do not necessarily need to be completely social media savvy, but at least know the do and don’ts and how they can represent the company the correct way on social media 🙂

  • At one’s own interest, pace, space and time has been working for me Mark ; )

  • Great points Mark! I think there is a clear distinction
    between passive and active employee participation.  Passive participation is organic and comes
    from an employee’s desire to promote where they work, what they do, and to a large
    extent who they are (since we work a majority of our lives).  Active participation is empowering your
    employees (those “hand-raisers”) to amplify the company’s voice.  Not everyone will be willing to actively participate, and that’s OK.  The most successful social media efforts are those that find the passionate employees,
    work with them to develop overarching objectives & strategy and continually modify & optimize as they execute.

  • Encouraging and/or enabling employees to do something they’re already inclined to do (blogging in the Zappos example) is one thing, but suggesting to them it’s a requirement of getting or keeping a job is completely short-sighted and smacks of coercion.

    Regarding the LinkedIn example, employers have no right to ask employees to adhere to any organizational guidelines for their LinkedIn profiles. It’s the employee’s personal identity, their self-expression. [Not directed at you personally] but where did corporate America come up with the idea that they have the right to ask for these things in the first place, to inject themselves in to their employees personal lives?  

    I realize that we’re talking about some absolutes here, but we have to stop giving corporations the idea that it’s in any way appropriate to require employees to become human brand extensions, unless of course the employee chooses to. 

    A discussion of policy related to voluntary Social Media participation by employees on behalf of the company is absolutely appropriate, and on that front I agree 100% with Liz Heron, Social Media editor of The New York Times:  “”We basically just tell people to use common sense and don’t be stupid.”

    Thanks for the dialogue Mark.

  • This is a great viewpoint, one I wish had more amplification. My own personal opinion: while not everyone is inclined nor trained to be an accountant or a lawyer or a social media communicator, in fact as a part of our employment, we should all be mindful of the financial ramifications, the legal ramifications, AND the possible social media benefits (or drawbacks) of all that we do, and get that information into the hands of the right people.  That said – I think that AWARENESS of SM and the role it plays in the company’s success is everyone’s job, but the doing-being-voicing is not one everyone is cut out for, any more than the company wants me on the front lines filing our tax returns.

  •  Consistent problem I see- not enough customers are online to even remotely justify most small and even medium size businesses to bother.
    If most would find the listen stations and use them with the appropriate employee, the job would largely be done.

  •  I think that is good common sense, Jan.  Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  •  Perfectly said. I have nothing to add to that wisdom. Thanks Michael!

  •  Really good point Kellee.  Although I made fun of myself as a non-accountant, probably the most valuable class in my MBA program was accounting … for that very reason. Smart employees and managers must know what is going on in social media. Thanks!

  •  Beautiful point Todd. It’s the engagement trap. I was reviewing a student business plan to create B2C engagement strategy for trip insurance. I really had to question why.  Of course it is possible, but it’s kind of like aspirin. You know where it is when you need it, but do you really want to have an on-going conversation with it? Again, I know it is POSSIBLE, but not sure it is best use of resources. Thanks fr the common sense perspective.

  •  I think I’m agreeing with you and a bunch of other folks, but I wanted to throw in my two cents. It seems these days that nearly every company should have some kind of guidelines in place for employees who do want to be a social media ambassador, but I don’t think any company should require it by any means.

    When I worked at a PR agency, I loved writing for the blog and sharing blog posts from my coworkers and just generally talking the company up on Twitter. One of my coworkers (and best friends) just didn’t want to go down that path. She uses Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch, but she doesn’t act as an ambassador online by any means. Offline she still recommends the company, but she just chose to keep that part of her life off the Web. And she’s a complete rockstar! I would hate to see her not move forward just because she doesn’t tweet “I love my job!” all the time.

  • Considering I wrote half a book about this topic, it’s truncated to discuss this in a blog comment, but I’ll give it a shot. I also feel like we’ve trod this ground, as we’ve discussed this in person, on my blog, and now here. This feels like Ali/Frazier, except in that trilogy there were different winners 😉

    I do not advocate EVER forcing employees to participate in social media. It should always be a volunteer-only circumstance. My point is that your employees (many of them) are already using social, and their participation in social inexorably impacts your brand and how it’s perceived. Thus, it makes sense to allow (encourage, in fact) that participation. I often see companies not encouraging that participation because they are fearful of their employees being able to “handle” social media. I do not believe social media is inherently about marketing. We need to figure out how all parts of a company can be social, not just focus on how do we add social elements to marketing. I also do not believe you have to be a super smart, trained marketing person to be “good” at social media. A lot of it is common sense, and what isn’t can and should be trained. I recognize you don’t agree Mark, and that’s fine. But, I find it strange that you are a college educator who is paid to educate people about social media, but yet don’t believe that everyone is capable of doing social media. So all of your students are inherently “capable”? Or maybe they become capable after taking your class?Ultimately, this issue is about trust. I’m not suggesting that we have 5,000 employees in a big company all have official company Twitter accounts, but rather embracing the reality that employees are already using social media in many cases (52% of the U.S. is on Facebook), so we should use that to company advantage, rather than squelching it. 

  •  Think that is a reasonable approach. And thanks for coming back : )

  • Maybe I missed something. It seems inconsistent to say “it’s everyone’s job to represent the company on the social Web” and
    then also say it is volunteer-only. That would mean it’s NOT everybody’s job to represent the company on the social web … and if that’s what you mean, I’m OK with that.

    As far as encouraging those already online … completely agree.

    I don’t think an ability to do social well necessarily has anything to do with education. It’s a mindset, or perhaps a personality type. If Rashard Mendenhall was one of my students, would it have prevented him from sending out those tweets? Nope. The world is filled with Rashards. Companies are filled with Rashards.  Do I trust him to carry a football? Yes. Do I trust him to be the team spokesperson on the social web? Nope. And that doesn’t mean the Steelers have a “hiring problem.”

    Why do we have to be able to trust our employees to do EVERYTHING? We shouldn’t. It’s not a matter of trust. It’s a matter of applying social media with common sense and unleashing those with a propensity for this sort of thing.

    Haven’t you found one great employee in your travels, where you thought, “Sheesh … the guy’s a star but we need to keep this guy off Twitter?” Doesn’t mean he isn’t trust-worthy. He just needs to stay off Twitter! : )

    I know you were in a time crunch today … thanks for being patient and representing your point, Jay!

  • Actually, no. I’ve never found a situation where I thought we needed to keep someone off Twitter. And let’s not forget Twitter is a VERY small piece of the social pie.

    And it is entirely about trust. The same way we trust employees with a phone, email, key card, password, etc.

    The better way to phrase it – and this is how I should have written it in my post, because this is how it’s written in the book – is that if you don’t trust your employees to use social media, you have a hiring problem.

    Why would you hire someone who you are scared to serve as a representative for your brand – even unofficially. I know it happens all the time, and I realize it’s not as easy as I make it sound, but I just don’t see the value in that type of talent acquisition approach.

    I never said Mendenhall is or should be the “team spokesman”. That’s a straw man you invented to fit your narrative. The fact is, he represents the Steelers in an unofficial capacity. Just as all employees represent their companies in an unofficial capacity. Social is just the modern extension of that fact.

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  •  We’ll have to agree to disagree. I don;t think we’re that far apart, but I think there is a difference between trusting somebody with a password to a computer and trusting them to represent your brand as a “publisher” on a permanent, searchable Internet platform. 

    Another interesting nuance. If Mendenhall (who you referred to in the original post) was not a team spokesperson, why did the Steelers have to wipe up the mess?  I think this whole line between “official” and “unofficial” is quite blurred today.

    For all intent and purpose, when you’re tweeting, you’re potentially talking to the press. If you’re talking about your company, you’re a de facto spokesperson. Because of the very public and permanent nature of social, I don’t think it is an “extension” of any previous model. It shines a spotlight on now published material in a harsh and inescapable way.  Five years ago, Rashard would still be a hero.

    Thanks very much for the dialogue.

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  • Anonymous

    It’s always a bit intimidating to add a comment to a “clash of the titans” discussion but I will anyway. I see validity on both sides of this debate. As an employer that used to consider the daily distractions of Facebook a fireable offense, I now encourage all of our staff to be engaged personally and professionally across various social media. I trust them to be balanced with it and have seen benefits in a more informed, connected and prolific team of professionals. Our situation is different because we are paid by our clients to be experts at content development and that includes strategic and creative use of social media for marketing. But all businesses benefit from marketing and social media is part of the mix. I don’t think social media use could or should ever be “mandatory” and obviously neither do Mark or Jay. It can be encouraged though and reasonable guidelines for polite behaviour can be provided as well. Those that have professional roles related to communications should understand why representing their brand positively, helpfully and honestly is important but those in areas beyond marcom should be opt-in only. And even then they should recieve some training and encouragement for their participation.

    After reading books “Delivering Happiness” and “Tribal Leadership” I am becoming an advocate of hiring for cultural fit within a business. It takes more than standard testing and interviews to find people that will help represent your business in all they do – including their positive engagement on social media. Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan describe reasons to hire “good digital citizens” in their book “Inbound Marketing”.

    So I agree with Schaefer, Bauer, Shah and Halligan. Encourage employees to represent themselves and your business with positive engagement and invite them to contribute to your content marketing efforts. But give them guidance and don’t force square pegs into the round holes of social media.

  • It’s partly a noise thing and partly a matter of preferred medium. Not everyone should be on social media in a company. The good stuff might get drowned out. What’s more, involve some on Twitter, get others to vlog and others to podcast – if they feel inspired to participate. 

    Making social media an integral part of every job is never going to work. The distinguishing thing about it will be lose in the noise. 

  • Great post! I think this definitely brings some balance to the argument. Also, I completely agree that some people do need to be “about the business of actually making stuff.” Without them, what anyone does on social media will be fruitless.

  • Glad to have another in the “practical reality camp.”  Thanks for taking the time to weigh in Ashleigh!

  • A very rational perspective. Thanks for sharing today.

  • This is really a wonderful comment Billy.  And I do agree with the aspirational goal of hiring good digital citizens.

    A related topic came up in my class today. We were discussing integrating social into a corporate environment and I presented this idea as a goal — everyone can be a brand ambassador.  Somebody piped up “The problem is, not everybody IS a brand ambassador. Some people are assholes.”

    A fair point!

    Is this a reflection of Jay’s “hiring problem” or a reflection of my contention that it is simply not a fit for all people?  Maybe some of both. Certainly for an organization like MLT Creative it absolutely should be part or everybody’s job. It should be part of the culture, as you say, and part of the hiring process because marketing is the fabric of all you do.

    Thanks for the diplomatic view. As I said, I don’t think Jay and I are that far off really and if we sat down over a tequila or two we would probably singing out of the same hymnbook within an hour : )

  • interesting post.

  • I agree with you to a point.  I don’t believe everyone should be forced to participate but I do think you should seek those out who would be willing and good all over the company and encourage them to participate.  Guidelines can be created by one department but all can share…if they want to.

  •  It seems that a byproduct of expertise is that lingering feeling that if your area of focus was more important to everyone in an organization – that many problems will be solved.
    This is, in part, responsible for so many folks spending countless hours learning new “critical” skills that have little to do with their core functions.

    What if Pfizer’s senior researchers were spending less time figuring out how to keep that new cancer drug stable at room temperature… and more time wondering what their next blog post should be?   I’m not certain of the economics but I’d gather that sooner or later there wouldn’t be any money left for social media consultants at Pfizer.

    Oh no!  I made the baby / bathwater argument. [guilty]

    Bite sized solution?  Focus on small, incremental & achievable steps towards social media literacy in the organization… not forced participation.

  • I agree with you, Mark, I’ll put it simply: everybody at the company should do social media as much as everybody at he hospital should do excellent surgical procedures. 

  • Kristen

    Bottom line… If you work for my company and pick up ANY phone (literally or figuratively) I expect you to know enough to represent “us”. I also expect that you know well enough that if the customer need widgets fixed and you’re not the widget fixer that you get that call to the widget fixer.

    Jay has it spot on in empowering employees.. Not necessarily to BE the voice 100% of the time just at the RIGHT time.

    As always.. Marvelous work 🙂


  • Bottom line… If you work for my company and pick up ANY phone (literally or figuratively) I expect you to know enough to represent “us”. I also expect that you know well enough that if the customer need widgets fixed and you’re not the widget fixer that you get that call to the widget fixer.

    Jay has it spot on in empowering employees.. Not necessarily to BE the voice 100% of the time just at the RIGHT time.

    As always.. Marvelous work 🙂


  • Bottom line… If you work for my company and pick up ANY phone (literally or figuratively) I expect you to know enough to represent “us”. I also expect that you know well enough that if the customer need widgets fixed and you’re not the widget fixer that you get that call to the widget fixer.

    Jay has it spot on in empowering employees.. Not necessarily to BE the voice 100% of the time just at the RIGHT time.

    As always.. Marvelous work 🙂


  • Harvey Gardner

    Maybe all employees need training on social media’s role in their company, so they’re aware of the minefields.  Social media awareness, similar to sensitivity training.

  • In a different life I ran the marketing department of a manufacturer of diamond tools. The guys in the factory were really interesting. Some of them were fascinating and could carry on an intelligent conversation with anyone.

    But some of them worked in the plant because they weren’t the kind of people who wanted to interact with the outside world nor would you want them to. They were good at what they did, but you risked a lot if you asked them to speak their minds.

  • Then I think you agree with me more more than to a point : )  I think we’re in synv on this one Traci. Thanks for your comment!

  • I think this is spot-on Bart.  In a way, this is like saying, “hey everybody … you’re all going to help with the employee newseletter.” That would not go over very well, let alone be the best use of their time. Thanks!

  • Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to comment Jill. Hope the new job is going well!

  • Thanks for the dissenting opinion. A valid perspective!

  • Absolutely. Even if a ocmpany is not “doing” social media, their employees are out there participating.

  • That’s the model I had in mind too Jack when I wrote the post. By background is industrial B2B. Heavily unionized and a pretty radical union at that. Jay’s model just would not fit in that environment, and probably most environments, in my opinion.  I think Jay has a much different customer set than I do! : )

  • Peter Zmijewski

    Cool blogging…

  • We also need to keep in mind how the technological landscape is changing related to social, and what impact it will have on most folks in the workplace. If you have a look at most enterprise software providers, they are all actively incorporating social into their mix. What this will mean for many people is that they will have social tools at their disposal to use internally, and I think this is where the first revolution will occur. We’ll see large companies using these capabilities internally to foster improved communication, etc. Baked into the software will be configurations ranging from “let my people be social with anyone, including customers and the world”, to “just do it internally.” Somewhere in between will be scenarios where social mentors/gatekeepers will moderate and nurture increasingly socialized employees. Comparing a small business with 20 employees all using Twitter to a behemoth of 20,000 employees with an “institutionalized” social identity can be very dangerous. I think the best approach can and will be going forward that we provide social as an opportunity of relevance. Someone in customer support uses social to help customers. In marketing, someone uses it to gain better insights. Internally, though, allowing all to use it opens up a kaleidoscopic world of possibilities. 

  • Marty this is a fantastic insight. I actually wrote about this idea a few months ago. You might enjoy it! What is Social Media’s Next Big Thing?

    Thanks for the great comment.

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  • I think what Jay is trying to get across is that, the social web is merely an extension of word of mouth. In the book “selling the invisible” it highlights the fact that everyone in a company is part of the marketing team. From bottom to the top. That being said, social media is the #1 online activity right now and not expecting your employees to utilize their already established marketing audience (friends/followers) for the betterment of the company means you have the “the wrong people on the bus.” plain and simple. If someone can walk outside and open their mouth to any ear that will listen they should be able to sit at a keyboard and do the same thing.

    What most companies fail to do is provide employees with the empowerment of the responsibility while taking away the liability. That’s where solid training and team collaborative dashboards come in to play. Look at – the model allows for everyone to share the responsibility while limiting the liability to the social media director or community manager by only granting access to “suggest” items rather than post directly.

  • Sead

    l agree with Jay basing on the traditional marketing which promotes organisations to have internal and external marketer. Non marketers can do a great job on social media. Of course training might be essential. After all if we dont allow employees to participate they will participate anyway without our approval. At least if it comes form the employer, the employer has some sort of control over the content and the employee.

  • While I believe the idea that all employees _could_ be brand ambassadors is a noble idea, it certainly isn’t a pool you can toss all employees into and have them each successfully swim to the other side. A solid understanding of the company, its goal for social media, the brand voice and things both appropriate and inappropriate to discuss are points that one’s employees need training on. 

    There will be those employees who, for one reason or another, should not speak for your company. There will be others who will be great advocates. There may be those who intermix their personal voice with their brand voice, which can prove to be disastrous for the brand. 

    A better approach – from my perspective – for a large company is to determine who should speak for the brand. Provide them with an “official” soapbox and the tools they need. Provide the other employees with your brand’s social media policy so if they decide to comment on a brand-related topic, they have an understanding of what is permissible and what is not. Offer company-wide training as well.

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