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August 25, 2009

Did You Hear What I Said About You On Twitter?

Blog cartoon 8-26-09

[Cartoon courtesy of Grantland Cartoons]

There's going to come a time when Twitter will be the best friend of the passive-aggressive. Instead of telling Bob in the next cubicle that his habit of eating with his mouth open is driving you crazy, or asking the boss to do it for you, you'll be able to Twitter it, and hope he gets the message.

In addition to complaining about cubicle mates and supervisors in the open—albeit indirectly—social media tools such as Twitter allow for business connections without the hassle of making plans (or putting in effort) to connect. In the old days, you had to pick up the phone or e-mail to nag. These days anybody can be an obnoxious marketer with nothing more than a Twitter account. Convince your prospects and friends and friends of friends to sign on as one of your "followers," and then start touting your products without regard to whether anyone is listening. As long as prospects are listed as "followers," it's at least as good as getting the phone slammed down on you, or your inquiring e-mail fast-tracked to delete. It's better than that, actually, right?

The problem is when you, or your company's executives, offer up Twitter and other social media tools such as Facebook as devices for pushing your products and services, you run the risk that in trying to charm, your well-intentioned employees will instead alarm. Imagine this Twitter or Facebook update from a software marketer that answers the timeless question, "What are you doing?"

"Enjoying my fifth shot of Southern Comfort this afternoon as I reflect on all the many reasons you should give Productivity Version 7.0 a shot."

It's a cute entry, and I certainly wouldn't hold it against the rep that he was mixing liquid pleasure with business, but not all your customers are as understanding as me. Or what if another post happened to mention, in an effort to be friendly and approachable, all your great product characteristics as the rep logs in from a retreat held by a strange end-of-days cult?  One would assume most of your company's sales people and marketers don't belong to end-of-days cults, but you never know.

Social media urges users to reveal information about themselves they previously would only have shared with the closest of friends, so it's likely, somewhere along the line, your most diligent marketers will offend by mentioning a location or association in the course of promoting your company. It could even be as innocent as touting the victories of a sports team that many of your best customers don't count themselves fans of.

To make such faux pas more avoidable, put together a demographics tips sheet about your customers and prospects to give reps. You probably already gave them such information, but this time link for them what you know about your customers with possible social media affronts. If, for instance, most of your customers tend to come from a certain city such as NYC, it might not be a good idea to post updates raving about the Red Sox. Or if your customers are socially conservative, traditional people, maybe the only Twittering and Facebooking that should occur is from a page set up especially for your company, rather than having marketer employees Tweet and Facebook from their own, personal pages. What if one or two particularly traditional prospects is turned off from buying from your company because he discovers your reps listen to music that people give the devil sign to at concerts?  Or how about those who are grossed out by tattoos and body piercings?  One of the enlightening things about having your employees market your products and services through personal Twitter and Facebook accounts is seeing so many tattoos and piercings in so many places you never imagined knowing about on your workers. Yuck!  More than I wanted to know, I can tell you that.  What would your customers think?

If you go the safe route, and ask employees to Tweet and Facebook via a company account, you still (as funny as it is) have to remind your workers not to tell customers and prospects your secrets. It's bad enough they know the real you; do you really want your company's public to know you're not allowing workers to buy pens and paperclips, and that many of them are harboring ill will towards you thanks to the unevenly distributed hiring and salary freeze you've enforced for nearly a year?  Didn't think so. Web 2.0 inspires a certain psychology that makes extreme, imprudent disclosure hard to resist. So, before implementing a social media marketing campaign, have participants do a few dry runs on a site only training managers can access. And drill into their leaky heads that it's unacceptable for them to let slip how horribly unhappy they are in the course of hawking your products. Believe me, a few Freudian slips will befall your company before your Twittering and Facebook marketing experiment is done.

It might be your most challenging training endeavor yet: Training your employees to pretend they like you.

What is your company's digital management strategy?  Do you have any idea how much damage your employees can do to your brand in the course of promoting your company via social media?  Any tips for using social media to your company's advantage while minimizing the risk to your reputation?


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