‘Social organisations’ emerge but lack strategy and governance

Some 67% of organisations offer no training on social media use. Phillie Casablanca

Almost half of all businesses and organisations in the private and public sector in Australia and developed Asian countries are now using social media, according to research by KPMG. A new term – “the social organisation” – has even entered the lexicon of management.

But 65% of organisations have no clear policies or guidelines on employees’ use of social media, 67% provide no training to employees, and almost half do not monitor what is said about the organisation in social media.

These are findings from a recent University of Technology Sydney study of the use of social media in more than 200 private and public sector organisations in Australasia – covering Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The findings point to a concerning lack of governance and a lack of strategy in what is becoming an increasing investment of time and resources.

Policies and guidelines

The study found only 34.8% of organisations have specific policies and guidelines on social media use by their employees. More than 22% have no policy or guidelines at all, and another 20% rely on verbal instructions and occasional emails.

It was also found that only 20% of organisations monitor all mentions of their brand, products and services in social media. Almost 40% monitor in an ad hoc or occasional way and another quarter monitor only a small selection of social media.

Training and support

Only a third of organisations provide social media training for employees, just over 23% provide technical support, and very few provide support such as editing services for staff using social media, such as organisation bloggers (just 6.8%).

The trend seems to be global. The UTS research was a collaboration with University of Leipzig academics who undertake annual surveys of communication managers across 43 European countries. They found that 60% of organisations have no social media policy or guidelines and only a third have tools or services for monitoring social media.

Life before TweetDeck was much less complicated. Metro Transportation Library and Archive

The result of the above is significant legal and reputational risk exposure for organisations from employees inadvertently or intentionally revealing confidential information or commenting inappropriately online. This can range from being “off message” to posting offensive content or engaging in “flame wars” with others.

A number of companies and organisations have already found themselves in legal trouble and facing reputation damage because of employee leaks, comments and other online behaviour.

Control and governance

The study also involved in-depth interviews with 14 social media strategists and heads of digital media in consultancies and major organisations.

Successful navigators of the online world say control, or clamping down on employees using social media, is not an option. Social media cannot be controlled – it is simply too open, too vast, too unregulated, and often too anonymous. Attempts at control usually backfire on the organisation.

Instead, organisations should apply governance, key elements of which are clear policies and guidelines for employees as well as regular monitoring.

Social media strategists say organisations can engage with key audiences not accessible through traditional media and significantly expand their public communication and marketing by providing training and support for staff to become online ambassadors and “evangelists”. “Turn them on, not off” is the recommended approach.

Legendary examples include Sun Microsystems which created more than 3,000 staff bloggers and Dell Computer, which has set up a Social Media and Community University to train staff across all its business units.

In Australia, Telstra has launched a social media policy and a number of government departments and agencies are leading the way.

The New South Wales Department of Education and Communities has published its progressive Social Media Guidelines online and the Victorian Department of Justice has produced a simple [short video]((http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws3Bd3QINsk) to encourage and guide employees in using social media.

The previously-cited 2011 KPMG study supports this staff-enabling approach, saying “clamping down was likely to result in more, rather than less, misuse of social media”.

Winning strategies

Social media experts and leaders at successful organisations stress the need for organisations to have a social media strategy.

But the research study found most organisations are adopting social media in an experimental way, or simply because their competitors and peers are doing so. Approaches are fragmented in organisations between marketing, public relations, IT and web managers, specialist digital consultancies and various departments and business units.

A social media strategy should include clear objectives for engaging online, details about who can speak on what, training and support. It should incorporate a sound governance framework involving policies, specific guidelines and monitoring of social media.

The “social organisation” is a positive development for business, government and society, but it needs strategy to be effective and governance to be safe online.

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