Governing Social Media -- an Oxymoron Brands Must Address

Three Steps to Managing Social Media in Challenging Times

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How do you govern the ungovernable? Isn't social media by definition the ultimate democratic medium that empowers anyone who wants to publish content? And don't you want a tone of freedom that drives organic, authentic engagement instead of command and control that yields shiny pre-packaged ad campaigns? Besides, power is so yesterday. To wit: "Power is decaying" (from "The End of Power," by Moises Naim, 2014).

This may all be true, but in companies with tens of thousands of employees, hundreds of products and services, and hundreds of thousands of customers to support, social governance teams must impose guidelines to avoid confusion and disorder. You should commit to delivering a simplified digital experience that will make it easy for anyone to do business with you online.

So, how does one govern social media? Here's a three-pronged approach we've used at SAP:

1. Establish a strategic framework. Complete an exhaustive process of interviewing each business unit to document their goals and target audience, then match those with the social platform that would deliver best for these audiences (for example, Instagram for a millennial recruiting program).

It's been fascinating to learn in many cases that the best social strategy is not to operate a social media account at all, but rather to invest in blogs or an influencer program and close existing, poor-performing social accounts.

2. Set controls, guidelines and audits. Companies must impose order on the social media process, despite the inevitable "whack-a-mole" chain reaction it creates when violations are found. In a Forrester Report, "Revamp Your Social Media Guidelines to Govern Today's Social Enterprise," Forrester analyst Nick Hayes writes, "To encourage social media use while still maintaining control, organizations develop social media policies to set expectations and influence worker behavior where they can. Yet, balancing the risks and rewards of social media is a struggle." Businesses are worried about the risks and have to protect against it.

The smart thing is to get ahead of the problems with two initiatives. First, publish clear guidelines for practitioners who manage corporate accounts and those who act as individuals, working in concert with your corporate code of conduct. Second, regularly audit the web to find out if your guidelines are being violated (yes they are, undoubtedly -- and you need to know where and by whom). Repeat your audit at least quarterly. A class of tools has emerged to serve this need -- Brandle is one I like.

3. Establish goals and measure results. Instead of solely focusing on imposing measurement criteria, help practitioners succeed. Training and enablement of far-flung channel managers, working around the globe, with modules published in internal communities, will help drive this. Training includes developing fundamentals of content and channel management, as well as metrics (and how to optimize to achieve goals). The threads here are inextricably linked -- the common complaint that most social channels underperform stems from channels launched on weak strategic underpinnings with managers who could benefit from more formalized training and business context.

So you can govern the ungovernable -- or at least provide a modicum of order to clear the path for authentic customer engagement online that's superior to most. Make sure to put policies in place that recognize the more liberal nature of governance today -- enabling teams instead of restricting them -- and encouraging them to have fun in the process, which is a pleasant byproduct of this new way of doing business.

Oh, and there is hope for power after all. "Driven by the transformation in the acquisition, use and retention of power, humanity must and will, find new ways of governing itself" ("The End of Power," Moises Naim).

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