Interacting with social media networks is often perceived by older company executives as a young people’s pursuit. Many leadership teams I speak to have delegated the management of their social media presence to digital natives.
FYI – digital natives, if you’ve missed that term, refers to the generation that has grown up with the Web as a primary form of communication. They are people who are natural assimilators of new technology platforms, applications and connected devices. (My definition – I’m sure there are better out there).
In layman’s terms they can pick up the latest smartphone and work out how to make a call, access the internet and various apps in under a minute because they understand the general design principles behind it (and how information is generally organised in modern devices).
The problem is that just because someone uses social networks a lot doesn’t automatically make them well suited to managing the digital reputation of a brand in real time.
In many cases a younger person’s social media experience (and yes I’m painting with a broad brush here) is derived primarily from their personal use. They certainly don’t have enough business, legal or life experience to make split second judgement calls that could potentially plunge a company into crisis – be that a customer law suit, an ACCC or ASIC investigation or causing a product to flop.
However, because many senior executives don’t necessarily understand the intricacies of social media they hand it over to someone who looks like they know what they’re doing.
It’s a bit like handing over the keys to your family wagon to a 12 year old because they win all the time at the legendary car racing game Grand Turismo on the PS3 and would therefore seem to be a good driver.
Here are some problems I see with this approach.
1. One wrong move can unleash a can of very nasty worms. KitchenAid learned this recently http://lat.ms/TEh8J2 Twitter is an open forum and whether your brand is well known or not, one offensive or unprofessional Tweet could see you being ridiculed, damaging your brand.
2. Social media is fast becoming the primary avenue for customer interactions. Customers turn to social media to voice their experiences and they expect rapid personalised responses from companies – especially when they’ve had a bad experience.
Your social media person must understand your business, your policies, the various consumer laws protecting customers and the limits to their delegated authority.
3. LinkedIn…most young people who aren’t in business have never seen or heard of LinkedIn so how do you expect them to drive your LinkedIn account – arguably one of the most important social networks that exists for business.
Last, but perhaps most importantly of all, it’s just not very responsible, or nice, to put such a large responsibility onto a junior member of staff. Getting social media interactions wrong in a highly public way can ruin careers. Mistakes that are made online stay online.
Normally employees are given a chance to grow into more senior roles and have opportunities to make mistakes under supervision where damage can be limited.
In fact, making mistakes is critical for learning important life and business lessons.
So why would we ask a relative junior in our business to step up and personally handle the public face of a company on one of the most complex and subtle communications platforms that has ever existed? It isn’t logical.
Here’s one last link you might like to read. I wouldn’t put all of this down to junior staff, but it does demonstrate why you need to think about what you do on social media carefully. It’s the top 11 social media bungles of 2012 as described by Mashable.