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Are you a good online spokesperson for your company?

One of the more astonishing things about the social media revolution is that companies have had to dramatically loosen the reins on employees speaking publicly about their workplace over just the past few years. Until social media and blogging democratized the creation and distribution of online content, companies relied only on company spokespeople, and it was easy to keep a lid on unofficial communications, because there were few channels. Then user-generated online content was invented, first with blogging apps and then with social media, and in short order, companies large and small had to figure out this radically new landscape. Employees, executives and spokespeople had to figure it out too.

Board of Governors Press Briefing (01611098)
Photo credit: IAEA Imagebank

When the user-generated content revolution got going, there were the predictable dire warnings about the dangers of letting employees speak freely online about their company, industry and competitors. But those fears were overblown, as employees have turned out to be largely self-policing. After all, their jobs depend on it. Further, companies have put social media policies in place and now offer social media training to teach employees the rules of engagement, making compliance easier.

For most employees, though, speaking about your company online isn’t central to the job. For those who have been designated as spokespeople, or who have been granted the freedom to create content about the company, it’s a different story. You have the power – what are you going to do with it?

Being a talking head spokesperson isn’t nearly enough anymore – that’s the minimum expectation. To maximize your effectiveness in the role, you also need a social media presence that humanizes your image. But beware – the more time you spend in social media, the more opportunities you will have to screw up. Here are some tips to help you avoid the landmines while using social media to enhance your company’s reputation:

  • Remember which hat you are wearing: With every post, you should strive to advance your company’s best interests, burnish your professional standing and add to the online dialogue. Not every post will accomplish all three every time, but no post should appear that accomplishes zero.
  • Be your key messages: Your social media persona should complement and expand upon the core messages you and your company are trying to get out into the marketplace. Don’t have key messages? That’s a problem. How do you know what to say, and what will support your business objectives? If you are a company spokesperson and active in social media but lack a roadmap of key messages, you should suspend your activities long enough to write some down.
  • Be responsive: There’s nothing worse than when someone finds your interesting content, tries to engage with you, and realizes that you are unwilling to interact. You don’t have to get into extended chats, but you do have to show that you are actively part of the conversation. Otherwise, people will tune you out.
  • Be non-promotional: You will also be tuned out if your every social media utterance is an ad for your product or services. You should be able to find things to say that support your business objectives indirectly. Want an example? This blog post. I sell spokesperson training. But this post isn’t titled, “Buy my services.” Instead, it’s an educational take on the subject designed to add to the conversation. You have to trust that your overall market positioning will come through.
  • Look for opportunities to connect further: Behind every Twitter handle and blog comment is a real person. One of the beauties of social media is that it provides an excellent environment for breaking the ice. You may have limited time for making in-depth connections, but it only takes a minute to thank someone for a retweet or a comment. Doing this is good for your career and company.

Remember: every social media interaction is also a media relations situation. You may be talking to a customer in a tweet stream or posting to your status, but that content is also discoverable by bloggers and professional media. Further, you never know which hat someone else is wearing – they may look like an industry player to you, but what if they also have an active blog? That makes them a member of the media in today’s world. Staying within your messaging and remembering that online media is the ultimate public forum will save you from a lot of headaches.

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