After months of careful brand rebuilding via social media, Vodafone Australia has been slapped down by one of its own employees, in an embarrassing example of what happens when staff turn rogue.
Retail employee Arthur Kotsopolous is part of Vodafone’s TNT Ambassador’s program, established after the telco lost 600,000 customers in a single year due to technical failures. He describes himself as a ‘social media expert’ and ‘brand ambassador’, but it didn’t stop him slamming customers and fellow staff alike in a series of offensive Twitter and Facebook posts. Arthur’s tirade made news for all the wrong reasons, and couldn’t have come at a worse time for the beleaguered telco.
It highlights a growing problem faced by companies of all sizes. How do you protect yourself when a staff member becomes a ‘social media rogue’? With growing numbers of employees using social media to interact with customers and the broader marketplace, the potential for serious brand damage likewise grows. But is it possible to stop these brain snaps before they ruin your brand? The answer is ‘yes’.
The key to avoiding the problem in the first place lies in proper staff preparation. It amazes me how many companies trust their social media engagement to often young, enthusiastic, but ill-prepared employees. Huge brands that spend millions of dollars each year on marketing and brand protection think nothing of allowing a junior marketing manager full control of their social media activity. Where each new offline campaign goes through exhaustive approval processes, often what happens on Facebook or Twitter isn’t even reviewed.
Employees responsible for social media activity are often just handed links to the latest campaign and told to post them, with little oversight of what happens next. Others are actively encouraged to become ‘brand ambassadors’ in Twitter, blogs, Facebook and so on, with little follow-up oversight of how they represent the brand.
As in the case of the Vodafone employee, when it goes wrong, it usually does so in spectacular fashion. Arthur might have been having a bad day when he said of his customers: “To top it off I’m serving mentally retarded people who buy phones and have no clue how to use them.” Or perhaps he was being funny when he Tweeted: “HTC rep just walked in. Get ready for another hour of blabbing about what are the worst phones on the market.” But there was no mistaking his displeasure when he Tweeted of a fellow employee: “Casual from down the road is working at our store today. She changes music and puts on this filthy emo music. Literally want to neck myself.”
Kotsopoulos also works for video game review site OXCGN.com. In an expletive laden diatribe on his Facebook ‘about’ section he lists the things he hates. These include Australia (“and the scum people that populate it. The people are f…..d”) and the internet (“full of keyboard heroes, idiots who think they are actually something special coz they can swear”). Such public proclamations would bring into serious doubt claims to be a social media expert.
Vodafone may have been forewarned about its employee’s impending brain snap had they searched his other social media profiles before making him a brand ambassador. Arthur is neither a social media expert, nor particularly suitable as a brand ambassador. But Vodafone is paying the price because they trusted their staff to do the right thing, with seemingly no training, oversight, or even system by which to keep an eye on them. And this is the recurring problem we see. Companies rushing headlong into social media marketing and engagement with little pre-planning or preparation. You can’t encourage your staff to extoll the virtues of your brand, without giving them some level of training, brand guidelines, and some basic do’s and don’ts.
Clever companies, such as Microsoft and Dell, know the value to be had in an engaged, informed workforce carefully representing the brand in social media. Both companies have well defined social media policies and guidelines. Both companies have implemented staff training programs to ensure employees know how to use social media, and most importantly, how to engage with customers. And most importantly of all, both companies have created processes and systems around social media workflow to ensure staff operate in a system of approval and oversight, with escalation procedures in the event of something going wrong. And by developing social media resource centres, in which marketing messaging, training programs, monitoring data and analytics tools are centrally located, both companies ensure employees have all the support and back-up needed to expertly talk about their respective brands to the wider community.
There’s a lot to be learned from the big guys when it comes to social media engagement. But the biggest lesson is to prepare your business and employees before you begin marketing and engaging. My company OBVIAM worked with Microsoft to establish the social media practices that make the software giant a world leader in social media. But not before more than 280 employees had taken it on their own back to set up Facebook accounts and Twitter profiles. The result was a huge brand mess that saw hundreds of employees talking to an audience of around 2 million people, with almost no management or marketing involvement or oversight. Microsoft spent more than a year closing these accounts and transitioning their fans and followers to official company profiles. They now have social media training courses for select staff, plus a very useful social media resource portal that centralises all activity, while still leaving freedom at an individual level to talk the language of your audience.
So before you set your employees loose on the world, take the time to train them, guide them and enable internal processes and systems to keep them on the right path.
In the event that something does go wrong, make sure an escalation system is in place so a senior brand manager or marketing director can step in and take over. As poor Arthur has found out, simply deleting all your posts of the past 12 months doesn’t make the problem go away.