The medium an organisation chooses to reach its audience is as important a decision as the message itself. A formal written announcement published in a national newspaper has a very different reach and impact to a YouTube video - it's an obvious difference, but even such a basic choice has proven to be the success / downfall of established brands over the last decade. The rise in social media adoption has increased the speed and reach of communications exponentially. Anyone with access to the Internet has the power to set up some form of social media account and share their views to a global audience. Their influence may vary but the opportunity is there.
This is why I passionately believe companies and brands can not afford to ignore the 'social' in social media as this increasingly popular communications channel is by its very nature designed to be for two way communication and sharing. Not only does this mean brands need to listen and engage with its (potential) customers, but also to ensure the persona it shares with its employees in daily operations matches the one it portrays via channels to the outside world.
In short, every company employee has the capacity to be a brand's greatest advocate or challenger.
So how can companies truly manage social - both inside and outside their virtual office walls?
Generation Y has an expectation of social media - instant and broad results - and this includes feedback from suggestions as well as complaints. Companies need to ensure they are transparent about their operations, listening and feeding back on employee as well as customer input. Not only can this create strong brand advocates but also stand companies in good stead for recruitment and new business activities.
Social media guidelines are an important first step. It is unfair to have expectations of employees' social media use if you haven't been clear about what the goalposts are. Employees need to understand if there are restrictions in terms of when social media channels can be used, how company references can be cited, whether disclaimers are needed and what these should look like.
Trust is at the heart of any successful relationship between employer and employee, let alone customer. If an employee feels trusted to do the right thing, that will empower them and is undoubtedly going to lead to more positive outcomes than negative. If you can't trust an employee to use social media sensibly, can you trust them to carry out other aspects of their role?
I don't think it will be long before 'social media' is no longer talked about as a separate issue. As communicators, we look at all channels available in order to decide which is the most appropriate to use for particular messages - whether inside or outside the organisation. Social media management will become an outdated term quickly. What will take its place is 'communications' full stop; employees are in turn ambassadors, recruiters, customers, and so on. Trust and transparency are therefore key. The question is how long it will take companies to be confident enough to accept this.