The social web has changed the communication rules for the Internet as its users are now no longer mere recipients of messages, but can publish content as well. This has an enormous affect on online brand management and corporate communications as established marketing and PR tools simply seem to be less and less effective.

Social Media requires a dialogue between enterprises and Internet users on equal terms, thus, warnings or threats usually have a negative effect, which can even cause long-term damage to the image of a brand or company when pressurized by the public.

While the individual can be powerful in the social media environment, everyone should be aware of netiquette and behave properly on these open platforms. Still, it seems, many who register underestimate the broad public reach of personal information and data. They upload private pictures or publish articles that would better remain unpublished, behaving as if no one would ever look at it. This error can have fatal consequences and even lead to a job dismissal as very few seem to be aware of what a bad light they cast on themselves and their employers. Social media, therefore, needs clear rules of conduct.

It's up to companies to properly educate their employees

Usually it is enough to demonstrate to employees on a screen that their profiles are displayed in search results when someone is looking for his employer on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn and to show them how many of their supposed private texts and pictures are publicly visible. Once they see what impression they provide of themselves and their company, they will usually agree to improve their profiles immediately and are more careful in the future with such applications.

Develop a code of conduct

As a further step, employer and employees can jointly work out codes of conduct for social media in the real public world. Such guidelines are more likely to be accepted if the employees have a say in them. If the company wants to use the social media activities of its employees for business communications, it should also make clear when and how long people are allowed to remain in social media platforms. Clear rules that simplify dealing with the topic for both sides will allow for a transparent online world, positive activities and commitment to the employer.

The emergence of social media has generated a new and innovative way to create dialogue and receive useful feedback in a way never seen before. The impact it has achieved in recent times is overwhelming and nobody wants to miss anymore the movement and the free speech of the Internet population, but what to do when you are publicly criticized on social media platforms?

Keep cool when the fear of too much "me" in social media is breathing down your neck

Don’t lose your temper, over-react or fall back into your traditional marketing thinking by creating barriers to social media initiatives, as you might feel disrupted in your hierarchical management model, when you get attacked on social media sites. Instead, try to face the challenges with bravery and etiquette by adopting a respectful approach when communicating with users on blogs, social networks and Web sites with social areas.

While negative user reviews or critical blog posts may be a thorn in the side, the constructive potential of social media should always be realized instead of annoyed interventions with threats of legal action.

Successful social media marketing generally requires a public, respectful dialogue between advertisers and users on equal terms, which means sometimes to accept, even welcome, criticism, and above all to give honest responses.

The Social Media Code of Ethics offers guidance in the tension between authenticity and brand management:

  1. RESPECT - We respect all users and their opinions and ensure a respectful interaction amongst all players.
  2. OBJECTIVITY - We welcome thematic content and objective criticism.
  3. ACCESSIBILITY - We respond promptly and appropriately to direct questions, suggestions and criticisms.
  4. CREDIBILITY - We stand by our public statements and reviews in all good conscience for transparency and credibility.
  5. HONESTY - We deal with mistakes openly and do not hide them.
  6. LAW - We respect the rights of our users and the rights of uninvolved third parties, including copyright and personal rights as well as privacy.

By Daniela La Marca