Social technologies have presented a tremendous opportunity for companies to truly engage with constituents and to reap the economic benefits that come with engagement.
Engagement is Personal
As we’ve written before, social engagement is about creating a mutual exchange of value that is independent of transactions. Our research shows that there isn’t a correlation between a brand’s number of fans or followers and profit or revenue, but there is a positive correlation between humanized content – i.e. content that conveys a human personality or that is identifiable as from a specific person rather than a brand – and economic value. Without human engagement, online, “social” activities do not correlate with increased economic value.
Engaged customers will work on behalf of an organization, and are more likely to be loyal. Engaged employees will advocate for a company and are less likely to leave. Across the board, engaged constituents create meaningful economic value for organizations both in increasing revenue and in decreasing costs.
Engagement is More Important than Control
A slew of new issues have arisen recently regarding the legalities of social engagement policies, and the knee-jerk reaction is often to try to “own” or “control” the situation. But, engagement requires an exchange – you give up some ownership and control to reap the economic rewards of true engagement. To convey human engagement, organizations need to enable real people to speak directly to constituents and this requires a degree of decentralization and loss of control.
Recently, PhoneDog and their former employee Noah Kravitz became locked in a legal battle over who owns the Twitter followers for the Twitter handle formerly known as @PhoneDog_Noah. When Kravitz left PhoneDog, he changed his Twitter handle to @noahkravitz and took the Twitter followers associated with the account (as Twitter allows). Now, PhoneDog is suing Kravitz $42,500 for those followers. The legal system will decide who has a legal right to these followers, but PhoneDog (and other organizations) should consider if fighting to “own” them really creates or supports a mutual exchange of value with followers. In fact, when crafting your social engagement policies, this principle should be the overarching criterion.
PhoneDog saw the value in having Kravitz communicate as a “person” rather than as “PhoneDog.” Numerous companies (such as Dell) will tell you that they have seen success at leveraging social personalities online in addition to their brand. In fact, in order to maintain transparency and to help build the reputations of their people and of the Dell brand, many of Dell’s employees on Twitter add “AtDell” to their Twitter handles. I’d say Dell is seeing the economic return on their social engagement investment – back in 2009, before Twitter was really cool, the company made $6.5 million off of Twitter alone and social is a core part of their business today.
But, showcasing real people rather than just the brand is beneficial because people build relationships with other people. They find them to be relevant and relatable and they are sometimes more likely to find exceptional value from a person – especially if that person is an expert – than a large institution. So, replacing one person with another doesn’t work because replacements lack the equity to deliver immediate value. It’s like recasting a TV show character in the middle of the season – viewers just don’t buy it.
Real “ownership” in social media is about the tone, the relationship and the content. These pieces should be your standards when deciding if your organization should “own” something online. In this case, the tone, relationship and content are provided and defined by Kravitz, not PhoneDog, and PhoneDog will have a tough time delivering on those promises.
Social Media Personalities Should Promote the Brand, not Compete with It
To deliver on the promise of value, organizations should ensure that their social media personalities cross-promote content and help send followers to the brand accounts (to provide value to the organization and to retain followers if the social media personality leaves), and let their spokespeople communicate with fans as people, including to continue communicating with them even if they leave the organization (to provide value to followers and employees). If the company has strong alumni relations, that former employee could continue to be an advocate for the brand even after they’ve left (and I don’t think suing someone for $42,500 will improve alumni relations).
Social Media Policy a Must!
Organizations will continue to face new dilemmas as social platforms grow and expand, but if you keep the principle of “exceptional, mutual exchange of value” at the core of your policy, you’ll increase your odds of truly becoming a socially engaged enterprise.
What else should you include in your social engagement policy? Look out for “Fundamentals of an Employee Social Engagement Policy” later this week.