Professional Use of Social Media: Two Different Approaches (Part 1)


Professional use of social media in the workplace is arguably one of the last taboo in public sector. Public Sector Organizations (PSOs) more than any other have a need, real or perceived, to control the message. Having dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of employees Tweeting away on behalf of the organization is no one’s idea of controlling the message. And yet, the potential for message amplification is very enticing.

Message amplification is, after all, one of the superpowers of social media. No matter how many followers your account might have, it is a nothing compared to the combined networks of your employees. It is this realization that has convinced more and more PSOs to encourage employees to use their personal accounts to become brand ambassadors and help toe the company line.

But like any social media initiative, this one is not risk free and there are serious potential repercussions to the PSOs brand and reputation. The reality is that this approach is still being ironed out and there is still much debate as to what constitutes the best approach.

At the heart of the debate lie a few core issues. Should employees use purely professional accounts or should they use hybrid accounts? Should they put a disclaimer in their bio stating that they are not official spokespersons for the organization? How much autonomy should they have in terms of selecting content? Over the next few posts, i will try to tackle some of those issues and provide you with some useful tips that should help minimise risk to the employer AND the employee.

In this first part, let’s look at the different account type options.

On the two types of approaches:

Pure professional or hybrid pro-personal, both have their merits.

Pure professional: an account that an employee creates exclusively for work purposes

Pro’s:

  • No personal content that distracts the audience from the corporate messaging

  • No content that could prove to be problematic for the organization (e.g. personal opinions or endorsements that do not mesh well with the organization)

Con’s:

  • You lose the personality of the employee and so becomes less social

  • Posting nothing but corporate messaging can turn off many followers

  • In some cases, you could actually be infringing on a platform’s terms of service (e.g. Twitter considers posting the same content over multiple accounts to be spam (See Twitter Rules) and could get all of your accounts frozen or worse)

Hybrid: A personal account used for personal AND professional purposes

Pro’s:

  • More personnality lets you build deeper relationships with your followers and creates a feeling of trust over time

  • Greater flexibility in choosing a wide variety of content will help build a stronger following more likely to retweet you.

Con’s:

  • The corporate messaging can be diluted or ignored

  • Greater risk of conflict with the organizations goals and policies

So which one is right for you and your organization? It will really depend on the nature of the work employees are doing, their familiarity with social media and with the organizational culture, processes and policies, and with the general level of comfort and trust between employees and management.


In
Part 2 – to disclaimer or not to disclaimer, we will discuss whether or not PSO employees should add a disclaimer to their bios!

Alain Lemay is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Profile Photo Alain Lemay

Thanks Cynthia, the tow instead of toe is due to an overzealous auto-correct.

We can debate the origins of the idiom (British House of Commons, Armed Services, Boundary lines of 1813, etc) but I would disagree with your interpretation of modern use. According to the Oxford and American Heritage Dictionary, the modern meaning is closer to adhere to rules or standards which in this case would be the organization’s Social Media Policy, Social Media Strategy, etc. Hope this clears up my intended use of this admittedly tired idiom.

Profile Photo Steve Ressler

That’s a good read and agree is tricky. If go the hybrid approach, I think key is not to get too hybridy and figure out your ratio (70% professional, 30% personal). And what type of professional – a fun pic from a vacation or sharing thoughts on a TV show is good. Too wild or controversial topics gets you into trouble

Profile Photo Kerry Simon Rea

Thanks for the thoughtful article. Getting employees and partners looped into social may be tricky in terms of tactical execution, but the results can be amazing for brand exposure and reputation. We did a post about how to build ambassadors to promote events that has a similar theme to yours — http://bit.ly/1rfVyNB

Profile Photo Alain Lemay

I agree that the balancing act in the hybrid model can get tricky. What is perfectly acceptable to you might be a tad offensive to others. Some PSOs have employee guidelines that cover some of this. The Canadian Government has the Code of Values and Ethics by which employees are bound even if they are only using social media personally. The best guide though is always common sense. Social media, even if only used privately, is a public forum and should always be thought of as such.