AS MORE marketers use social media such as Twitter and Facebook in their professional and personal lives, the lines between the official company line and private comment are becoming increasingly blurred.
In the past few days a spat between a senior executive at IBM and a journalist was played out very publicly on Twitter. IBM's head of digital marketing, Martin Walsh, says the tweets directed at the technology journalist Nate Cochrane did not represent the views of his company, despite his Twitter profile clearly identifying him as an employee of the global IT giant.
The clash raises the issue of brand management in an era of social media, when everyone has an opinion and a place to publish it, however impulsive or scathing.
A similar issue confronted Telstra last year when one of its employees was identified as the person behind the Twitter account of the "Fake Stephen Conroy", commenting on issues concerning the listed telco.
The controversy prompted Telstra to develop guidelines for its employees using social media. The chief executive of the Australian Interactive Media Industry Organisation, John Butterworth, said companies needed to be clear with employees about their expectations. ''I'd encourage employees to think about it very carefully, too. Good, old-fashioned common sense needs to come into play."
The regional director of Ogilvy 360 Digital Influence, Brian Giesen, said his company advised all clients to have a social media policy.
"It's very simple: any company that employs people should have a clear social media policy. There should be guidelines about what employees can and can't say."
However, Mr Butterworth warned against prohibition as a way of managing brand communication in social media. ''In terms of content marketing, which is what all these social media are used for, if you have staff who are fantastic commentators, use them. The worst thing that you can do is ban people. That's not a great reflection on doing business in the 21st century.''
In dealing with the Fake Stephen Conroy issue, Telstra management had to consider whether or not to stop staff using social media. "We're learning on the fly,'' said Telstra's group managing director of public policy and communications, David Quilty. ''We had a choice to do the typical corporate thing and clamp down, but we're a comms company; it would be pretty silly to clamp down."
Telstra has a policy and a training module for its staff on the use of social media based on what Mr Quilty calls "the three Rs - responsibility, respect and representation".
Employees who used social media for Telstra in an official capacity were trained and accredited, he said. "It's actually worked better than we expected. It's a learning curve, and a lot of common sense needs to prevail. Our view is if we facilitate, hopefully [the staff] will be advocates and be positive."
Ultimately, though, employees will only say good things about their company if they believe in the company. The Korean car maker Hyundai recently found itself at the pointy end of a Twitter feed when disgruntled employees lashed out at the management of its Australian arm.
Hyundai Motor Company Australia's senior manager of product communications and public relations, Ben Hershman, would not say whether it had a policy for social media. His company was surprised that there were ''negative comments out there''.
Apply common sense.
Draw on talented commentators in your organisation.
Create guidelines for use of social media.
Allow your employees to confuse official and private conversations.
Now - there's some extra notes to add to this.. perhaps the Westpac "Oh so very over it today" tweet could be included in the above commentary. Did you miss it? Gavin summed up it very eloquently here: When a bad days good
I think the first point in the etiquette above pretty much says it all - apply common sense! Although somehow I expect we're going to see more of these public exchanges ;-)
I have recently moved jobs from a fairly traditional bank to a much less formal commercial bank, where the friendly approach to business is encouraged. In most regards, I feel I am settling in well, but I still feel that the tone of my e-mails is not quite right. I am looking for an e-mail sign-off that can be used in office correspondence, is brief (perhaps one word), which is less formal than "regards" but is not over-friendly as in "cheers" or "best" and so on. Any suggestions? Banker, male, 46
It used to be quite simple. "Yours faithfully" went with "Dear Sir", and "Yours sincerely" with "Dear Mr x". But now, 10 years after e-mail became the preferred tool for business communications, there is still no agreement on how to say goodbye.
Recently, I counted 100 e-mails sent to me and found 35 different ways of signing off. Of these, 30 were trying to be friendly, and all were annoying in different ways.
The first problem came from trying to sound warm. "Take care" and "Warmest regards" ooze insincerity, though are better than "Warmly", which is soppy and leaves me feeling distinctly chilly.
The next failed attempt at friendliness involves striking a matey note. "Cheers" and "Catch you later" sound more sloppy than soppy - and dim, too.
Worse than mateyness is cheeriness - usually signalled by an exclamation mark, which should have no place in e-mails, especially not at the end. "Have a good one!"; "All the best!"; "Enjoy the weekend!" are sloppy, dim and grating.
Less dim, but no less misguided, are abbreviations. These achieve some informality, but at the cost of being insulting by implying that the writer can't be bothered to make a couple of additional keystrokes. "BR", which is distressingly popular, still means British Rail to me. "Rgds" is hideous, and "HTH" (hope that helps) does not help at all. One reader has written in recommending you sign off "Yrs Ev". I wish I could be confident he was joking.
The two most popular "friendly" e-mail sign-offs are "Thanks" and "Best". The first is acceptable if there is something to be thankful for, but in most e-mails this is not the case. And the second is never all right as it makes one wonder: best what?
The reason it is so difficult to find a friendly e-mail sign-off is that the starting point is wrong. Work e-mails are not meant to be friendly, as they are not written to friends. Instead, they should be clear and polite and, above all, short or else no one will get as far as the sign-off anyway.
For years I have adopted the following rule. For people outside the company, I write "Best wishes". For those inside, I simply write my name.
Hit random keys
Hit caps lock. Hit four random keys. All your colleagues will think you're using some new internet acronym, and will be embarrassed that they're not "down" enough to know what it means.
hmmm - now here's some food for thought! I've been using Cheers for a while now and I am tiring of it... so perhaps it's time to find a more Aussie style sign off..? See ya? (a little too informal, perhaps) or.. I am rather partial to the random key suggestion... any thoughts, contributions to add? BFNid ABB ;-)
Barabási mathematically describes networks in the World Wide Web, the internet, the human body, and society at large. Fowler seeks to identify the social and biological links that define us as humans. In this video Salon, Barabási and Fowler discuss contagion and the Obama campaign, debate the natural selection of robustness, and ask: Is society turning inward?
An interesting conversation about social networks - the physicist & the social scientist - not a clash of opposing fields, rather an attempt to understand.