When The Sous Chef Serves Up Social Media: Should Your Employees Ever Promote Your Business on Social Media?
Promoting your business, protecting your brand, and pleasing your employees can be a difficult balance in social media.
Let’s imagine that you own a restaurant. Would you ever expect your accountant to come in on their day off to prep that night’s produce? Would you ask your bartender to spend their Sunday morning laying stones for your new patio? Would you ever consider asking your sous chef and your head waiter to design your new brochures – and all for free? This may seem a little silly and absurd – or even unsafe. And yet this is what hundreds of companies do when they ask their employees to do online promotion on their behalf through personal social media accounts.
The role of a social media manager is a bit of a funny gig. A year or two ago, social media managers were indispensable, as much a part of a company as the head of HR or the accounting team. But in 2014 and 2015, the role is evolving and now and more companies need a social media coordinator. For social media is now everyone’s job and everyone’s responsibility. You can’t be a CEO and not have a firm understanding of social media. And the same goes for the summer students.
Social media is in everyone’s job; social media IS everyone’s job. But not for free, not during personal time, and not without training.
It’s an innocent enough request at first. The monthly memo goes around and includes a generic Facebook logo on the side, complete with a jaunty “Follow us on online!” cry. Or the Twitter account is finally – finally! – launched and there’s a request to retweet about the company’s charity drive or new grand opening. There’s no harm in that, is there?
If you ask any manager if they think social media is an important part of business, they will almost always say yes. Even if they don’t like it, even if they don’t understand it, they know it’s important to be online. Or that they can’t risk not being online. They know they have to be there and, thankfully, more and more companies are taking the plunge and investing the time and money needed to set up their social media profiles.
So why, after the investment of time and money, are they willing let their online reputations rest with a bunch of amateurs? Because that’s exactly what your employees are, no matter how much time they spend on Pinterest during their lunch hours.
When you ask your employees to retweet or repin or share from the company’s account via their personal networks, you’ve created an unregulated, untrained, unaccountable group of spokespeople for your brand.
And sometimes this is a great thing if they do indeed get the word out about the charity drive or the new grand opening. But what exactly are they supposed to do when a friend, a family member, or a follower who is completely unknown to them asks something like “Why are you supporting Charity X? They placed dead last in Money Sense’s survey of non-profit accountability?” Or what if a disgruntled former employee sees a post about your grand re-opening –and then goes on a tirade about how it’s nice there’s money for a makeover, but it’s a pity Company X was too broke to send flowers when she slipped and broke her leg on the uneven tiles?
You could monitor your employees’ social media accounts to see that their online engagement post-company share is appropriate – but somehow I think that monitoring personal accounts of employees won’t exact create an atmosphere of loyalty, trust, and cooperation. You could get your employees to report any problematic concerns to a supervisor – by which time the moment has been lost and an angry post has been sitting, unanswered, for hours or even days. And an employee, who was doing you a favor, is now not only spending their personal time promoting your company, they are also now using their personal time to put out fires. How long do you think they’ll remain an enthusiastic online supporter themselves?
This of course assumes that your employees’ personal accounts are structured in such a way that, when they share your message, it appears to be a sincere, genuine engagement. Social media success comes not from numbers and vanity metrics, not from the volume of retweets, but from the quality of the engagement. A lot of budding vegan chefs (with loyal online followings) work at non-vegan restaurants just to make ends meet. Some of them even work at steakhouses! Do you really want them to be sharing your content? At best, their followers will see it as a joke and start making fun of your restaurant. At worst, your employee-slash-budding chef will lose credibility and followers (which means you lose their loyalty and dedication).
There is a flip side as well – are you sure you want your company to be associated with the kind of material your employee produces and shares online? People use online profiles to share different sides of their lives and personalities and that might not always include the values of your company. Your employee has every right to use their off hours to pursue their love of burlesque dancing, artisan tequila, illustrating S&M sex guides, attending political protests, promoting religious texts, and binge watching Nicolas Cage movies. There’s nothing wrong with any of these pursuits (well, except maybe the Nicolas Cage movies...) but are you sure they’re the best compliment to your brand?
One of the most slippery slopes in social media is how the line between personal and professional is blurred. Work is an important part of everyone’s life and is a critical part of some people’s identity. And people will inevitably post things that relate to their work life. But that is their choice, their time, their responsibility. And it’s the responsibility of their employer to have a social media policy that covers the personal/professional lines of both corporate and personal social media accounts.
But when you ask employees to share and interact with the corporate account for free, on their own time, you are showing disrespect for their worth and you are opening yourself up for a world of trouble.
This may sound like a doomsday prediction, especially for those companies comprised of generous, supportive, tech savvy employees. And I hope it is – I wish business and employees nothing but social media success and enjoyment. But do know this: when asking your employees to promote your social media message on their private time backfires, it backfires big.
A Conservative Party of Canada message to civil servants to promote the #StrongFamilies hashtag on Twitter saw virtually no engagement from the civil servants themselves, but plenty of tongue in cheek fun from the general public, who was resentful that the politically neutral civil service being asked to promote a partisan message. Within hours, #StrongFamilies was trending on Twitter, but for all the wrong reasons. Government ministers were asked why they weren’t paying child support. The hashtag was successfully hijacked to grill the Conservative Party about foreign policy, the environment, even the federal budget. Instead of receiving subtle boost of engagement from their employees, they were the butt of a nation-wide joke that is still going strong.
Next time you think you don’t have the budget for social media training, for a social media coordinator, for a social media content specialist, ask yourself how much money you’ve set aside for damage control. Chances are, you’ll find an ounce of prevention costs a fraction of a pound of cure.
Looking to turn your social media management over to the pros? Sculpt Social can help with that.
Vanessa Chiasson is the founder and senior digital strategist of Sculpt Social.