Online Communications guidelines/philosophy

As part of the Online PR course today we covered guidelines for online communications. So here’s this part of the course.

Communications guidelines or a comms philosophy is better than a set of rules in my view because the wannbe lawyers will try and argue every word of a ruleset. It’s much hard to argue with a cloud or something as fluffy as “please don’t do anything that makes people unhappy”. These guidelines that are created by a company should be a group activity, not written by one person and enforced. The group (generally) will be more switched on than one person. If your staff contribute to this it also means they know what this is about and don’t get surprised with a new memo dictating what this is.

If there is only one thing to remember:
Everything that can be copied or pasted or photographed with a mobile is one step from being seen by the whole world. This goes for internal and external communications.

Companies that take part in a conversation (even when they get dragged in) will be far better than companies that refuse to take part. With online being a core part of every life, both business and personal, every mention of you in a conversation can be found and can be added to. Both positive and negative opinions can spread and build more.

A few truths:

  • People will talk about you online.
  • People will talk about you online and sometimes this will be negative. This is ok.
  • No matter who you are and no matter if you are a living saint, someone will say a negative thing about you or your company.
  • Conversations cannot be stopped and should not be. Those who try to stop them will actually end up adding the wrong type of energy to the conversations and create further ones.
  • Everyone, including you, has a right of reply. Sometimes it might not be where you want to place it but you still ought to exercise that right.
  • A staff that are schooled in communicating is better than a staff that are told they can’t communicate.
  • Good external communications can only happen with good internal communications.

Communications Guidelines for online interactions:

When either representing the company or when in a personal capacity and talking about the business area:

0. Don’t be alone
Point out the conversation to others in the company if you are at work. They may also be looking at the same content and about to respond. Others may also have a different and reaction to the piece. Other opinions from within your organisation should be welcomed.

1. When interacting, be upfront.
State who you are from the start. Use your real name in full or at least first name. State you are from your organisation. State what area you work in or what your role is if this is needed. Making up names, pretending to not be from your organisation can be seen as dishonest (it is!) and even when you think you are doing good and your intentions are good it can be used against you and your organisation. Also, your IP address is probably going to be logged and can be traced back.

2. Respect the right to give an opinion.
Some people might be over-the-top hostile to your company and even you. Respect their right to have an opinion and to share it. You might not like their viewpoint and disagree with it but having an open mind when it comes to opinions makes you a better communicator. You can disagree and still be respectful. Always remember you are not just reply to someone but replying to someone in front of potential dozens or hundreds of others.

3. Be helpful.
Try and provide as much information as you and the organisation are able to give. If there is information you can’t provide, say so. Support all points by linking to information sources, both your organisation’s sources and others.

4. Be positive.
Joing discussions about competitors or adding to a thread that is not constructive doesn’t help your organisation and the community in general. Try and make every interaction one that provides value. Standing on its own, does this blog post, blog comment, forum thread, Twitter reply represent your organisation well? Does it typify your organisation’s Spirit? Positivity is also infectious and is reciprocated. If people add an opinion to a blog post, Twitter message or forum thread you started, thank them since they’ve taken time out to contribute and help.

5. Be concise
This might sound like the opposite to providing as much information as you can (No. 3) but it is not. Depending on the interaction, it might be a case of correcting incorrect information or giving the take of your organisation. In hostile environments, nitpickers will examine every word you use. Get to the point quickly, provide the information in the first few sentences to ensure clarity. In a world of speed reading and scanning, if you can provide information in the first 3 lines compared to the first 30, the scanners and those who take their time will read you more.

6. Be playful
These are guidelines, not rules, not laws. Over time as you interact your language and style may change. Find what works for you.

7. Give feedback
Make these guidelines ones that adapt to the world. Give internal and external feedback. Revisit them on a regular basis.

11 thoughts on “Online Communications guidelines/philosophy”

  1. All sound advice. A theme that seems to be running through it is ‘don’t jump in’. In the work of representing clients with traditional media, I’ve often adopted the tactic of being a ‘third party’ to the argument that I’m making, or the client I’m representing, as an exercise to ensure I don’t get totally one-eyed. It might seem a bit contrived, but it does help a bit.

  2. Hey Damien, very clear and to the point as well as being very useful! As a member of a public sector organisation that it slowly but surely dipping its toe into the waters of online communications and social media this kind of info is great.

Comments are closed.