Spotlight-on-talent-cropTo be, or not to be… on social media.  That is the question-a simple one to utter, but a far more difficult one to answer-and rightfully so.  Exposing a brand to millions of people at the speed of “post” can be intimidating to SM newbies and even seasoned PR and integrated marketing pros, depending on the subject.  Good news travels quickly in the Twitterverse, however bad news travels even faster.  A poor response to a negative issue?  Viral.  ‘Nuff said.

These are a few of the concerns that dance around in the PR department chief’s head after senior leadership presses her to develop and nurture an agency’s foray into the SM realm.  If your agency handles sensitive or classified information (gasp), it will take quite a bit to convince the legal department, special security office, and people developing and approving content for your site that sharing it with the rest of the world is a good (or safe) idea.  Once you’ve laid out a comprehensive social media plan (hint, hint) that identifies the tangible and intangible benefits that your posts, tweets, Vines, and other content will bring to your organization, you should consider the risks of taking the mission (or brand) social.

And the risks of avoiding the local and global conversation altogether.

Successful Department of Defense, industry, and NGO social media sites attract thousands of followers-some add to the conversation while others simply observe, or “listen”, to the conversation.  Unfortunately, there are others having sidebar conversations that may or may not be relevant to its mission-including obscene comments, Web links, and other inappropriate posts.  They can break the flow of conversation-similar to how the loud guy on the cellphone across the room causes you stop in mid-sentence, just long enough to for you comment to your friend about what he just screamed at his wife, then return to your story about your crazy weekend in Vegas.

These organizations have the best intentions for their social media programs, but each can be overwhelmed with the volume of content and behind in their capabilities to apply the same controls that are available to their other communication channels (e.g., Email, web, phone, etc.). Nevertheless, common sense dictates that the responsibility for the content and communications rests with the account owner where even waivers and disclaimers fall short. Deciding how extensively to moderate a site is challenging because a social media team must use its best judgment when removing distasteful comments without derailing the main conversation or discouraging others to join the discussion, or those in the future.

The legal consequences of publishing content should also be considered before setting up your social media page.  Your base, post, or agency may be liable for the content hosted on your site, even if you didn’t write it.  Make friends with your legal team or Judge Advocate General and work with them to develop digital publishing guidelines that are easy to understand-and enforce.  Remember that, like every employee, Soldier, Sailor, Airman, and Marine, your site is a very visible “face” of your organization. Its reputation and credibility are at stake.  A good rule of thumb I learned as a young (ish) Public Affairs Airman regarding the release of information was “SAPP”: Security, Accuracy, Propriety, and Policy. When in doubt as to whether your post or video is in good taste or may get you into trouble, ask your legal team for a little help-that’s what they’re there for!

Refusing to be an element of the social media landscape can also ding your credibility as an individual or organization.  The media, people, and other agencies (including your competitors) will talk about your organization, branch of service, favorite show, and other people, things and ideas you hold dear all day, every day.  A social media site allows you to monitor, or “listen”, to what others are saying about you and respond accordingly.  Whether you decide to blast someone for posting negative comments on Facebook about your shop is up to you; but there will be consequences…not the good kind, either.  Keep it classy.

Social media is here to stay; too much time, energy, and cash have been invested in this phenomena for it to fade away anytime soon.  That’s a good thing-it’s revolutionized how communication professionals spread the word about their employees, missions, and all-around interesting stuff.  However, these pros scrutinize each and every post to determine how it may help keep followers engaged without alienating others or divulging the boss’ social security number.  It can be a tough job, however trying to engage the public, media, and others without using a Twitter, Facebook, or other social media tool nowadays is even tougher.



  1. Legal issues are a HUGE concern among social media postings. Content shared on social media should be scrutinized before posting to ensure validity and politically correctness. Companies are representing the brand on social media and it is extremely important to maintain a professional appearance despite the “laid back” feel of a social network. I liked that you brought up whether or not some companies would even benefit from the use of social media. I am a little embarrassed to say that I hadn’t actually considered whether there were even companies that couldn’t benefit. For companies such as law offices and banking, there is only so much content that can and should be shared to consumers. For those companies, sharing any updates on new products, location information, or staffing might be beneficial to the company. But on the other hand, it is a tricky situation to be in because it is even more important to be cautious.

    • You’re right, Katy-the finance and medical industries must work very closely with their PR, legal, and, in some cases, their security teams to ensure that every post conforms to HIPAA or other non-disclosure regulations. The Department of Defense established social media guidance that educated its troops about the virtues (and dangers) of posting photos, videos, and info that could put fellow Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in danger. A geo-tagged pic taken while deployed and posted to Facebook could represent a bullseye painted on the backs of these servicmembers!

  2. Jamal, i really enjoyed reading your blog, it has good flow and was easy to follow. I very much agree with everything you mentioned, especially the information on responding to negative posts and how you need to “keep it classy”. Some businesses get offended by negativity and respond to quickly, and don’t think of the consequences to their business. I know from experience that i would be upset if i were to see a “rude” or inappropriate comment, but i now know how these can affect your company and others (maybe clients) see how you react under pressure.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks, Morgan. It’s tough for the social media team, CEO, CIO or other content managers to remove emotions from the equation when reading negative comments about a company, project, or person (ex: pop star) in which they’ve invested significant time, money, and effort! Being able to step back, take a breath, regroup, and respond is what separates the pros from the amateurs.

  3. Our agency had to make a social media policy before we took any further steps of making the pages. We also made another section of the social media policy for personal use because we have a lot of employees going on social media during work times and even on their work computers. We tend to hide the negative comments because since we are Job and Family Services, there are a lot of negative comments. However, I am mindful of every word I post on it because I do not want to give off a bad impression.

  4. Good to hear that your agency “aimed first, then fired”. Some dive into SM headlong, without a plan, take their lumps, and learn their lessons. However, they risk losing potential followers and/or alienating those they’ve been fortunate enough to gain while drafting their SM plan on the fly. If they had a plan in the first place, they could adjust quickly, efficiently, and effectively-tackling negative perceptions, reducing the number of negative comments and gaining fans and followers.

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