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Approved(Read time = 2-3 minutes) A previous ScoopD blog post illuminated the emerging dilemma for marcom practitioners driving their companies to social media best practices; namely the appropriate role of legal approval in the social media communications process.  As often happens in today’s social media, the post opened up a whole can of virtual and viral worms.  Here, contributor Chuck Byers takes the conversation a layer deeper w/regard/to striking an appropriate balance between protection, real-time marketing and freedom of expression.

This isn’t going to be an entertaining rant on the intrusion of our legal colleagues into the creative and messaging process (although such is tempting) because the truth is this sometimes acrimonious dialog is historic and on-going.  And ultimately, I’m going to ask you to share your best practices because, quite frankly, the role of legal and marcom in corporate social media is evolving.

At the outset, let’s acknowledge that there are enormous and legitimate legal concerns.  I’m not a lawyer but it is obvious that an entity is at legal risk nearly anytime it communicates with its constituents.  It used to be that biggest worries were having a corporate officer mutter something untoward into an unsuspected open microphone or in a mistakenly “off-the-record” interview. These risks are compounded in legal’s eyes by the litigious nature of today’s society, shareholder activism, and competitive business practices. 

There are clearly additional concerns over the implications and mis-steps of the speed of information exchange and the breadth of information reach.  The worldwide web isn’t called www for nothing and the ability to injure, harm or offend spreads as wide as the ability to enhance societal justice.  Trumping all considerations is the necessary ability to catalog, store, retrieve and produce — or more importantly legally protect and defend — material that could be potentially determined to be discoverable.

That said, what is the appropriate balance between legal protection, marketing, freedom of expression and capitalizing on the spontaneity and interactivity of the social media for the social good? How do companies balance these two historically orthogonal perspectives when there appear to be a range of corporate policies and cultures at play?

At one end, there is a technology company with a very active robust social media department who designates specific individual to be their social media communicators.  These individuals are charged with using good taste, a thoughtful consideration for the power of their words and deeds, a culture that reinforces that they are the company’s representatives and that they are the trusted messenger of the company’s good will.  Within these boundaries, they are charged to maximize all facets of social media for the company good … blogs, tweets, FaceBook and even virtual reality.

At the other end, there are companies whose legal departments are insisting that they need to approve an 89-character tweet that point’s customers to the company’s latest new product announcement. 

So where is the middle ground?  As communicators we would clearly prefer the former to the latter.  But this not Utopia and not every company is going to be so liberal 

What are the best practices?  We call upon the wiki-power of the blogosphere for the answers.  Share your experiences, best practices and worst practices.  The ScoopD team hopes to gather feedback with the intent to begin dialogue leading to a sense of direction.  

And in the best spirit of social media, we will share all in what we hope will be a consensus seeking exercise.  Follow http://www.twitter.com/maddogprofessor on Twitter and let’s begin trading ideas.

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6degrees(Read time = 2-3 minutes) One of the surest signs of mainstream acceptance is when cutting edge trends bleed into traditional media coverage, become fodder for SNL and other parody spoofs, and (gasp!) find themselves the subject of academic scholarship and book publishing “for the rest of us…”  .  Ah… Twitter and Facebook, we knew you when…

When I stumbled across Nick Douglas’ just published, way to funny collection of “Twitter Wit: Brilliance in 140 Characters of Less”, it got me thinking just what other signposts are out there indicating wider acceptance of social networking/social network marketing?  Douglas’ book is an edited and authorized collection of the funniest tweets of all time w/forward by Biz Stone, co-founder of Twitter.  Sure, campaign 2008 thrust Twitter on to the public stage, but what else?

A Smattering of Social Media Maturity Proof Points

Reports of Facebook “…getting more gray…” as the 35-54 crowd increases their participation by over 60% in the last year.  A Forrester research report must be purchased, but here’s several links that digest the topic and results for free:

Facebook:  The Road Ahead: a TechCrunch report from the Web2.0 conference (4/09) on CPM rates, revenue experiments and developer alternatives.

Volunteer mass computing: Kudos to Intel for this free app and launch of a public beta project available to all Facebook users.  “Progress Thru Processors” runs as a background process on your computer, automatically directing idle processing power to the researchers’ computational efforts (AIDS, Global Warming, African Malaria).  When the user’s computer needs the performance, the app shifts into idle.  Reminds me of Berkeley’s SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) project.  These “grid” distributed computing projects have grown in recent years to include (among others): DIMES  (internet mapping project), GIMPS   (large prime number search), more AIDS Research, out to the more light-hearted Einstein neutron star-search, and BURP  (big, ugly rendering project for collaborative 3D graphics animation.)

Kevin Bacon redux… 6 degrees of separation has been reduced to 3, so contends a July 09 Trendsspotting.com write-up which chronicles Facebook and virtual friendships, building on social psychologist Stanley Milgram’s work and the Microsoft 2006 instant messaging study that popularized “6 degrees” into a social icon.

 Academics join the fray:  peer-reviewed articles and scientific publication is becoming more the norm as academics are starting to weigh-in with headier tomes.  Here’s just a few I found of more than passing interest:

What have you noticed as your clients or agencies engage in social media discussion?  Any insights to share?

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cake_bigRead time = 2-3 minutes) So… Twitter is now part of your B2B marketing initiatives.  You’ve figured out the basics of measurement and monitoring your competition … made an uneasy peace w/the folx from Legal.  The next challenge to having your cake and eating it too, will likely be “multiple account management” as the Twitter passion spreads.

Multiple accounts?  You bet. We see easily seven layers and 5+ accounts as practical for even smaller businesses, more possibly – depending on the granularity of sub-brands, geographies and the like.  Not all layers need to be used, but all should be thought about.  The typical starting point is three not one, yup – three (including two that you may not first think about but that have serious branding consequences).  But that gets ahead of the story.

Drivers are the perceived need for audience community segmentation strategies…  message volume… and/or native language requirements, among others.  What should be balanced is multiple account need v. management complexity, a particularly difficult line to walk given that Twitter tools remain very fluid with functionality still evolving.

“Multiple accounts, or not…” becomes prominent very quickly.  More to the point is probably “how many accounts” rather than “multiple or not”. Let’s examine the possibilities:

Layering as a Twitter Account Strategy

  1.  At the Top:  Investor Relations.  I call this the “corporate” account. Unique content resides here w/r/t financial reports, earnings calls, acquisitions, etc.  Tweets will be carefully reviewed and approved.  Feds are actively considering regulation that permits social media in satisfying disclosure requirements (blog on the topic). In the beginning, one layer may host the IR/PR/AR and Marketing tweet content.
  2. Business Division: Marketing Messages.  This cut, or the one following (sub-brands/products) are usually the first fragmentation that proactively occurs.  Could be a geography cut (US v. Japan), or wanting to distinguish between the investment community (communicated using the top, corporate account) and the business trade community;  or, could be separation of several business trade segments (think:  automotive v. marine v. energy v. agriculture)
  3. Sub-brand Segmentation: Product/Technology Messages.  It may be that certain product brands or technologies have wide community followings.  As such, there is an opportunity to develop vertical Twitter follower channels very narrowly, suggestive of old-media vertical trade publications. 
  4. Branded Individuals: Official: Spokespersons.  Trained and trusted.  Branded and blessed as an official spokesperson at some level.  Naming convention: twitter.com/(company name)(personal name).  Clearly a personal account but equally clear that the person is associated w/the company or brand.  From this level come the more spontaneous, conversational tweets; from this level, much of the relationship building.
  5. Branded Individuals: Not Spokespersons.  Same Twitter account convention, gives the appearance of official spokesperson, but not blessed. Employees, alums, etc. who elect to have business identity as part of their Twitter account name.  Could take the for of: twitter.com/(company name)Bill… or twitter.com/(product brand)/Sara.  The risk here is that a personal account by virtue of the naming convention is seen as an official spokesperson when in fact the employee may not be one.
  6. Accidental Branding: Employees.  This, I feel, is the layer of most risk – both for the employee and to the company itself.  At this level, employees call out company branding as part of profiles, background graphics, professional resumes, etc.  As such, the employee stands a great chance of being found during a brand-driven web search.  Unguarded comments, picture tagging, etc. may therefore be associated with the company, inadvertently.
  7. Unbranded: Employees – Exactly as it says,  employees but those who have not, in any way, linked themselves to the company or any of its associated brands.  Here, there might actually be opportunity lost, ie w/out a branding link, the company might loose positive halo-effect garnered by a well-known engineer or cutting-edge graphic designer or prominent business marketing manager.

 Easily, a single company can quickly emass 5-10 accounts when you consider the corporate top level, let’s say two divisions, three brands and six spokespersons.

It begs the question, what tools exist to better manage multiple Twitter accounts.  Would love to hear reader suggestions.  Among those gaining ink are:  Co-Tweet,  Splitweet, Buddymedia, Hootsuite and  (but that’s a story for another blog post, down the road).
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