by Jennifer Lumba | October 27, 2013
A company can only be as authentic as management allows its employees to be in public forums. Even so, loosening the muzzle can be frightening, especially when you consider the horror stories of damage unleashed by misplaced tweets.
For example, last year several brands posted inappropriate and callous sales pitches while Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast of the United States. Count some top retailers among the worst offenders. “All impacted by Sandy, stay safe! We’ll be doing lots of shopping today. How about you?” read a post from an official Twitter account. You can imagine the outrage that followed.
Unleashing employees to talk online, unfiltered, raises the specter of your company suffering a similar gaffe. So why not just keep everyone off  social media? Mostly, because it’s not realistic. Billions of people around the world are already connected.
More importantly, social media offers an unrivaled opportunity to connect with prospects globally, and in real time. The trick is to do so without damaging your brand in the process. How to toe the line? Here are 10 tips for using using public and in-house networks for authentic social media marketing:
1. Conversations over pitches. Authenticity can’t be manufactured, so don’t try. Instead, give workers the freedom to be participate broadly in conversations occurring on social media. You might be surprised by how often they talk about issues that matter in your industry, establishing expertise and credibility in the process.
2. Friends over followers. Too many of us try see social media as a numbers game won by those with the biggest networks. Don’t take that bait. Instead, encourage your employees to cultivate a smaller group of meaningful connections based on shared interests and let conversations about work flow naturally.
3. Spread good ideas from others. See a great post about something you find interesting? Share it with your network, and then publicly thank and acknowledge the source. Free up your employees to do the same. Soon, you’ll earn a reputation as a must-follow expert source on the issues that matter to your industry.
4. Reward connectedness. Take note of employees whose posts are frequently cited and reshared, or whose activity is followed by the biggest names in your industry. These are the brand-builders in your organization. Recognize their efforts tangibly with a small gift and publicly with a mention in your next companywide update.
5. Lose the filters. Top-flight employees are always going to speak their minds. Don’t shy away from this truth; embrace it. After all, authenticity is the byproduct of authentic voices marketing your products and services because they believe in them. Trust your employees to be brand champions on social media.
6. Ask for criticism. Every business has detractors and you will too. Use the critics. Ask for specific feedback on your social marketing efforts. Document all of it. Do you see any patterns? What complaints do regular critics share with infrequent commenters?
7. Benchmark. But don’t stop there. Do a broad study of your social marketing efforts to understand how often you pitch, what you market, how often your efforts result in a lead or a complaint, and so on. Seek to know the whole truth about your social marketing strategy. Only then will you be able to make an authentic improvements.
8. Track progress. Set specific, measurable targets for your social media marketing and then follow through quarterly. Use both numerical and subjective criteria. Are you answering critics regularly? Is your team engaging in conversation on social media? Do others see your posts as valuable enough to reshare?
9. Publish changes. Once you’ve built a mechanism for gathering feedback and measuring effort, it’s time to let the would know what you’ve done and why. Advertise the changes in a company blog and then post a link to it. Respond directly to critics who asked for changes. Spread the word widely, and then restart the process of gathering feedback.
10. Recognize leaders. Every army has a vanguard that takes the first painful steps towards real progress. Don’t let these pioneers go unnoticed. Instead, creatively and publicly reward their efforts. Something as simple as a $10 lunch certificate awarded by the CEO at the next companywide meeting can go a long way towards establishing best practices.
In the end, workers want to speak online in their own, authentic voices. Free them up to do so. You might be surprised by the results.

Jennifer Lumba is the chief marketing officer of Rideau Recognition Solutions. Built on state-of-the-art technology, Rideau’s employee recognition and customer loyalty programs change the way companies recognize employee service and achievement, reward individual and team performance, strengthen customer relationships, and create brand loyalty. Lumba can be reached at [email protected]