Thursday, March 28, 2013

Should your employees be your ambassadors - or not?

Most people work for someone else. Perhaps they work for small companies (many people do), or perhaps they work for larger companies. Either way, these people are employees of these companies, and have particular roles in the company (receptionist, Vice President of Engineering, or whatever).

But Mark Amtower believes that all employees, regardless of position, should have a second role.

Sales, marketing and BD departments are being downsized while companies try to figure out how to do much more with fewer key people in place.

First, management must take an active role in promoting the idea that each employee now wears more than one hat.

Amtower has two suggestions, one of which is to encourage employees to use social media to promote their firms:

Anyone who reads my column or sees me speak knows that I am a proponent of LinkedIn. I consider LinkedIn to be the place to be for business social networking, second to none.

That being said, there is Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and many other social networking platforms. Dropping an occasional thought on these other platforms about your business (a contract win, sharing some news item, etc) can lead to an inquiry about what your company does.

The idea is that the employee will talk about the company, the other person will ask the employee about the company, and the employee will pass the lead on to the professional sales staff. For more of Amtower's thoughts, go here.

At this point, certain people in certain companies are keeling over in shock, hoping that Amtower's thoughts are not seen by their employees. Why? Because in certain companies - especially publicly traded companies - various statements by employees can lead to all sorts of trouble.

Let me give you an example. Amtower suggests that employees share information about contract wins. As a proposal manager, I become aware of my firm's contract wins. Yet you rarely see me sharing them online - except for long after the fact. Why? Because in most of the RFPs that I see, there is specific language regarding sharing of contract wins, stating that the customer must authorize any such sharing. Now once an approved press release comes out, that can be shared all over the place (usually). But when a salesperson tells me that "We just won XXX" - or even if I attend a city or county meeting in which a contract is approved - I still have to be very careful about sharing it.

And, of course, there are the much more obvious examples. If you come into possession of a non-public profit and loss statement, sharing of that statement could be a crime, and could get you and your company in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

To guard against these problems, some companies place limitations on what employees can do on social media. For example, here is an excerpt from SonicWALL's Code of Conduct:

Dealing with the media is best handled by those experienced in the area. SonicWALL has designated only certain individuals as authorized to speak on behalf of the Company to the press. If you are approached by a member of the media, refer the person to our Corporate Communications department.

Social media is an evolving technology, which has exciting possibilities but also carries many dangers. The Company urges employees to exercise care in connection with the use of all online public forums, including blogs, wikis, chat rooms, social networks (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, Twitter), user-generated audio and video (e.g., YouTube), or other social media. Because social media tends to blur the line between public and private, even personal online behavior may be subject to this Code. All provisions of this Code and the Company’s other policies (including those related to non-harassment, conflict of interest, and computer usage) apply equally to online conduct.

Only employees specifically authorized by the Company may post content as a representative of SonicWALL, and such employees must always identify their affiliation with SonicWALL. All posts and comments should be honest, truthful and respectful. Employees who post for other purposes should make clear that any such postings are made in their personal capacity, not as a representative of SonicWALL, and that any opinions expressed are their own personal opinions.

Employees must not post confidential or proprietary information unless specifically authorized to do so. Similarly, the use of SonicWALL’s logos, trademarks, copyrighted information and other intellectual property is prohibited without specific authorization.

Employees should in all cases refrain from any postings or conduct that would reflect poorly on SonicWALL.

Now Mark Amtower's thoughts and SonicWALL's Code of Conduct are NOT necessarily mutually exclusive. In most cases - perhaps there are companies that specifically prohibit ANY online discussion of a company by unauthorized employees.

For most normal companies, however, these two examples illustrate that a balancing act must be navigated between the competing threats. You don't want all of your employees posting private financial data all over Facebook. But at the same time, you don't want employees that are too afraid to even admit that they work for your company; that could be just as damaging to your firm in the long run.
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