Reputation management services have been getting a lot of attention. A recent New York Times article featured these companies, who use a variety of ingenious techniques to help counteract negative attention online. Certainly when others are posting things about you or your business that you can’t control, a service like this can be helpful. One bad review can rise to the top and undermine your reputation.
But another key to reputation management is being proactive about controlling your content in the first place. A good content strategy should include a plan for social media. The challenge is to balance the dichotomy of the essential spontaneity and immediacy of social media with the need for planning and controlling the content you release.
The elements of content strategy for social media include the creation of a content calendar, rules of engagement, and editorial guidelines.
A Content Calendar plans your content distribution in advance, to account for seasonal content, new products or services being offered, and key announcements. It is a living document that by definition will change to respond to relevant news, current events, memes, and changes. But planning ahead determines you’ll always have appropriate content ready, and allows advance planning for releasing that content.
Social Media Guidelines are the golden rules by which all your social media posts are governed. This is particularly important for those for whom multiple people are posting via blogs, Twitter, or other channels. For a small company or a single individual, these guidelines can be simple, outlining which topics are appropriate, whether it’s acceptable to mention competitors or endorse vendors, talking about current projects, and so on. For a larger company, it might include legal restrictions (consult with the company’s legal team), privacy policies, and rules around the protection of intellectual property. It is important, however, to not be too restrictive with these guidelines, as it undermines the essence of social media — the individual conversation. IBM was a pioneer in creating social media guidelines, creating a wiki in which employees could discuss and contribute to the rules and guidelines for social media. Together, IBM’s employees created a guide to posting that serves as a model for others and continues to evolve with evolving social media channels.
Editorial Guidelines are a more creative exercise. You have identified the content you want to distribute via social media, but have you thought about how to present it? Your voice is important. It should reflect your brand strategy, but also recognize the forum in which you are speaking. Don’t try to be hip and cool on Twitter if your brand isn’t hip and cool. But don’t embarrass yourself with a lack of understanding of the medium. (For example, don’t tweet every day with a promo for your latest product.)
Social Media requires planning, just like any other communications channel. Make sure you have a content strategy in place before you start participating.