The Fine Line of Content Generation
When an employee shares an opinion online, are they expressing the views of their employer?
It’s a tricky question—a question that has landed more than one company in hot water in recent years. Of course, a company’s social account is usually considered to be an arm of that corporate brand, but what about an employee’s personal account? Or what about employee-generated content posted using the company’s hashtags or to a company blog? There’s a fine line between personal and professional communications, especially when companies encourage their team members to contribute to content generation.
While getting employees to share and produce content for their company can be a great way to expand the brand’s reach and bring more diverse perspectives into the conversation, it also further blurs the line between the personal and the corporate brand.
Some employees may be resistant to this idea of sharing content to their personal channels. After all, many people still view their social media account as an extension of their own thoughts and opinions, something that does not fall under the influence or concern of their employer. Others may embrace the opportunity but find themselves stepping into one of many social media pitfalls that could reflect poorly on their employer.
In any case, any social media initiative must consider the inherent risks of employee advocacy while also highlighting the positive effects that make employees actually want to join in. If done correctly, implementing a content generation protocol can be mutually beneficial for both the company and the individual.
What Does the Employee Get Out of It?
With the rise of social media, “personal branding” has become the buzzword of the moment for professional development (and not just for the influencer crowd).
Personal branding allows people to create an online persona and audience that can be leveraged for the individual’s personal or professional benefit. Whether you’re a model or an accountant, establishing your authority and showing off your abilities through your online interactions can have a positive impact on your career.
After all, what do most hiring managers do after they read a promising resumé? They Google the name, of course. Seeing that the person shares industry news on LinkedIn, writes insightful discussions about professional topics on their personal blog, or talks about how awesome their company is on Facebook could make the difference when it comes time to decide who moves on to the interview stage.
What Does the Company Get Out of It?
Diverse perspectives bring value to your audience. Seeing that a company is made up of different kinds of people with a range of different viewpoints humanizes your company. Suddenly, it’s not just a faceless monolith. It’s an organization of passionate and knowledgeable people.
This feeling of authenticity encourages trust and can motivate your audience to learn more about the company, as well as the team members who work there. After all, it’s much easier to connect with a specific person than it is to connect with a logo.
Basically, if you do it right, employee advocacy via social media can add color and breathe life into the company brand.
Merging Individual Viewpoints with Company Expectations
We all have rich experiences and unique perspectives (some that may or may not be appropriate to share on social media). However, when an individual is representing their employer, there can be a disconnect between their views and those of the company, and that’s to be expected. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do need to figure out how to strike a balance between the individual and the company perspectives.
In the age of social media, a formal protocol regarding how employees talk about the company online is a good idea, and it’s absolutely essential if you want to actually encourage employees to contribute to content generation. The company should establish a certain protocol that allows the individual contributor to provide content that is acceptable and within certain content guidelines. This makes sense given the company has legal (and likely moral) obligations to operate within while individuals aren’t held to the same standards.
At the bare minimum, you’ll need to create clear guidelines that lay out what kind of content is appropriate and what is not. Two hard-and-fast rules that every company should have in their social media policy are:
- Don’t share confidential information via social media: This one should be obvious, but it never hurts to have it in writing. Information considered private or confidential has no place on social media, and your policy should outline the potential ramifications of disclosing that information.
- Don’t use social media to engage in arguments with competitors, customers, or former employees: Social media often emboldens people to speak their mind in a way they wouldn’t do when talking with another person face-to-face, and if they feel attacked, it may be especially tempting to retaliate. That’s why your policy should lay out a protocol that employees can follow if they see negative comments about the company online. For example, you could direct employees to pass the issue along to your social media manager. But, above all, they should never take it upon themselves to play offense against internet trolls and disgruntled customers.
If employees are expected to contribute to your company’s professional social account or blog, it may also be useful to create a company “style guide” that provides guidelines for tone and themes, as well as a few ideas to help employees start generating and sharing content.
The company and the individual are not one in the same, and neither is representing the other at all times. Each has a distinct viewpoint, and yet they can both be compatible. It’s not up to your company to control every aspect of what your employees say online, but it’s also important for them to realize how sharing certain viewpoints and information may affect their employer.