Social Media and Leadership in Small Companies

Social networking can engage customers

Even the smallest of business will have a certain style. A way of doing business. A way of treating customers. And successful businesses tend to have found ways of doing things that are that are unique or different to competitors. In large companies, this is collectively known as “the brand”. But even small businesses will have a brand.  Social Media networks like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can be used to improve the brand presence of a small company, or just as easily, detract from the brand. But it is not control over Social Media that business owners should seek,  instead they should deliver the leadership that ensures that staff automatically understand when and how to use Social Media to enhance the reputation of a business.

A brand is much more than the use of a fancy logo or particular company colours. It is the very essence or DNA of a company. In small companies, this brand is often an extension of the hopes, desires and wishes of the business owner. In short, the ego of the businesses owner.  But as a small business grows, inevitably the original intention of the owner is diluted; employees are just not as dedicated or as “On Message” as the original owner. In the past, this has not mattered so much because in these circumstances, a business owner could demand to see, draft corporate literature and to edit it before it was released. Or perhaps, he or she could simply issue a memo with guidelines or “Manage by Wandering Around” and make sure everyone was towing the party line.

The apparent dilemma today of using social media marketing is that on the one hand, you do want all your employees to engage spontaneously with customers and prospects to create two-way interaction that is the hallmark of good social media technique. But on the other, business owners wish to have sufficient control to ensure a positive brand building presence on Social Media. What is needed is a sort of self-policing coupled with a dynamic editing process. However, the temptation is to issue overly strict social media guidelines that prevent employees from expressing themselves.  Often this will result in employees becoming disillusioned by what they see as restrictive control over what they do or say on social media on behalf of their employer.

Instead, I would advocate simply telling staff what it is your company stands for. What it is that makes your company unique and different. Why customers do buy from you and then to remind employees of their common interest in making sure that they do keep “on message”. That is, they understand the company brand. And this, I would argue, is no more than providing the good leadership and clear direction you should be applying regardless of whether your company uses social media or not.

Larger companies could use sophisticated social media monitoring tools such as Radian 6, (now owned by Salesforce.com) that will monitor not only what other people are saying about your company, but also, indirectly and  conveniently track what your own employees are saying about your company that might be noticed by the general public. And there are plenty of cheaper or free social media monitoring tools (like Social Mention) that can do the same thing for a small business. But remember, this kind of monitoring will only work after the event and someone has to waste company time playing the “Social Media Policeman”.

Far better to have employees know what is expected of them in their job role and the standards that they are expected to uphold and where the boundaries of good customer behaviour are for your particular company. If you do this,  then there should be no need to issue separate instructions for social media usage. As a business owner,  it is your solid leadership that will be enough to result in the employee behaviour you wish to see on social media. And what is more, the majority of staff will thank you for that.

But what happens if an employee does use a company social media account and unwittingly (or deliberately) brings the company into disrepute? Well I guess that depends on the nature of that offence. But in general, standard company disciplinary process should be applied. Always remembering that, if you do have problem with rogue “off message” or even simply rude social media posts, it will almost certainly be down to a lack of good leadership. And that means you…