Making Decisions When You Don’t Know the Questions

When organizations venture into social media, it is often with their eyes closed. A forward-thinking Gen X or Gen Y staff member says, “Hey, can I try this?” and off they go. . . Unfortunately, there is something missing: social media for professional use is not the same as media for personal use.

There are a myriad of decisions that need to be made up front and throughout the process. From HR to IT, these decisions require the combined expertise of your entire team. Rarely can they be made by one person alone.

Who should be at the table and what role do they play?

  • Marketing Director – provides input on branding, constituent relationship management, and integrating activities with overall marketing plan
  • IT Director – provides input on computer security, technical support
  • HR Director – monitors employee related issues that may will arise
  • Programs/Sales Director – ensures that activities meet predetermined objectives
  • Staff responsible for online activity – brings new ideas and concerns to the group, helps the team membersbetter understand the “online underworld”

If it is just you and you don’t have a team to assemble, make sure you are thinking through decisions with each of these hats in mind.

How should decisions be made?

Most of the initial decisions about how to brand, how to interact with constituents, establish goals, and manage risk should be made at the group level. Why? Because social media is uncharted territory; there are not many precedent setting court decisions that can guide our decisions. Activities must be both tempered by the experience and prodded by the enthusiasm. It is a delicate balance.

Your team doesn’t have to do this alone. Be a snoop. Take time as a group to look at the sites of other organizations similar to yours. Look at what they are doing well and what they are not doing so well. Look at major brands like Coca-Cola or the Red Cross. They pour marketing dollars into social media. Learn from them (and save your money).

What decisions need to be made?

There are many, many decisions that need to be made should you decide to explore the cyber world. Unfortunately, from a legal and risk management perspective, we don’t yet know all of the questions. We must tread lightly.

Some decisions will need to be made upfront. What follows below are a list of some of those decisions.

  • Why do we want to be online? What do we hope to accomplish? How will we track our success?
  • What resources are we willing to invest?
  • How willing are we to allow the online communities to engage with our brand, thus potentially losing control of our messaging?
  • How will we handle negative comments?
  • How will we safeguard client privacy?
  • How will we safeguard our employees? Intrinsic to this question is how public will the employees themselves be in our activities and, should that employee’s personal accounts eventually be connected to public accounts, what challenges can be expected?

Many more decisions will need to be made on a daily basis by those tasked with maintaining the sites and activity. Some of these decisions will have far reaching consequences. How staff responds to a negative post will impact the trust you have with your online community. Up front, you can establish values and guidelines; however, there may be difficult decisions that need to be made. If the staff responsible for the activity has the expertise of your team available to support him/her, their decisions will be enhanced.

Still other decisions will need to be made in the months and years ahead, as the online world changes, as court decisions come down, and as your organization changes. We don’t yet know what all of those questions are or will be. Keep your original committee close. If they are continuously informed about what is going on, they will be in a better position to help the organization make better decisions down the road.

The old adage applies: “failing to plan is planning to fail.”. . . only in this case, instead of just planning you are safeguarding your organization by “planning how to decide, even when the questions aren’t yet clear.”

Want more information on where to start? Read: Social Media: Start Here.


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