Get SMART: The Social Media Awareness and Response Team
Get SMART: The Social Media Awareness and Response Team

Get SMART: The Social Media Awareness and Response Team

Source: University of Minnesota Libraries

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An information systems study guide from the University of Minnesota.

Get SMART: The Social Media Awareness and Response Team

Customer conversations are happening and employees are using social media. Even firms that aren’t planning on creating a social media presence need to professionalize the social media function in their firm (consider this a social media awareness and response team, or SMART).

Social media is an interdisciplinary practice, and the team should include professionals experienced in technology, marketing, PR, customer service, legal, and human resources. While the social media team provides guidance, training, and oversight, and structures crisis response, it’s important to ensure that authentic experts engage on behalf of the firm. Social media is a conversation, and this isn’t a job for the standard PR-style corporate spokesperson.

Social media policies revolve around “three Rs”: representation, responsibility, and respect. Many firms have posted their policies online so it can be easy for a firm to assemble examples of best practice. Firms must train employees and update their knowledge as technologies, effective use, and threats emerge. Security training is a vital component of establishing social media policy. Penalties for violation should be clear and backed by enforcement.

While tempting, creating sock puppets to astroturf social media with praise posts violates FTC rules and can result in prosecution. Many users who thought their efforts were anonymous have been embarrassingly exposed and penalized. Customers are also using social media to expose firm dishonesty.

Many tools exist for monitoring social media mentions of an organization, brands, competitors, and executives. Google Alerts, Twitter search, TweetDeck, Twitrratr,, Facebook, and Foursquare all provide free tools that firms can leverage. For-fee tools and services are available as part of the online reputation management industry (and consultants in this space can also provide advice on improving a firm’s online image and engagement).

Social media are easy to adopt and potentially easy to abuse. The social media team can provide monitoring and support for firm-focused efforts inside the company and running on third-party networks, both to improve efforts and prevent unwanted disclosure, compliance, and privacy violations.

The embassy approach to social media has firms establish their online presence through consistently named areas within popular services (e.g.,,, Firms can also create their own branded social media sites using tools such as’s “Ideas” platform.

Social media provides “four Ms” of engagement: the megaphone to send out messages from the firm, the magnet to attract inbound communication, and monitoring and mediation—paying attention to what’s happening online and selectively engage conversations when appropriate. Engagement can be public or private.

Engagement is often more art than science, and managers can learn a lot by paying attention to the experiences of others. Firms should have clear rules for engagement and escalation when positive or negative issues are worthy of attention.

Case Study - Astroturfing and Sock Puppets

​Social media can be a cruel space. Sharp-tongued comments can shred a firm’s reputation and staff might be tempted to make anonymous posts defending or promoting the firm. Don’t do it! Not only is it a violation of FTC rules, IP addresses and other online breadcrumbs often leave a trail that exposes deceit.

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey fell victim to this kind of temptation, but his actions were eventually, and quite embarrassingly, uncovered. For years, Mackey used a pseudonym to contribute to online message boards, talking up Whole Foods stock and disparaging competitors. When Mackey was unmasked, years of comments were publicly attributed to him. The New York Times cited one particularly cringe-worthy post where Mackey used the pseudonym to complement his own good looks, writing, “I like Mackey’s haircut. I think he looks cute” (Martin, 2007)!

Fake personas set up to sing your own praises are known as sock puppets among the digerati, and the practice of lining comment and feedback forums with positive feedback is known as astroturfing. Do it and it could cost you. The firm behind the cosmetic procedure known as the Lifestyle Lift was fined $300,000 in civil penalties after the New York Attorney General’s office discovered that the firm’s employees had posed as plastic surgery patients and wrote glowing reviews of the procedure (Miller, 2009).

Review sites themselves will also take action. TripAdvisor penalizes firms if it’s discovered that customers are offered some sort of incentive for posting positive reviews. The firm also employs a series of sophisticated automated techniques as well as manual staff review to uncover suspicious activity. Violators risk penalties that include being banned from the service.

Your customers will also use social media keep you honest. Several ski resorts have been embarrassed when tweets and other social media posts exposed them as overstating snowfall results. There’s even an iPhone app skiers can use to expose inaccurate claims (Rathke, 2010).

So keep that ethical bar high—you never know when technology will get sophisticated enough to reveal wrongdoings.

Case Study - Who Should Speak for Your Firm? The Case of the Cisco Fatty

​Using the Twitter handle “TheConnor,” a graduating college student recently offered full-time employment by the highly regarded networking giant Cisco posted this tweet: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” Bad idea. Her tweet was public and a Cisco employee saw the post, responding, “Who is the hiring manager. I’m sure they would love to know that you will hate the work. We here at Cisco are versed in the web.” Snap!

But this is also where the story underscores the subtleties of social media engagement. Cisco employees are right to be stung by this kind of criticism. The firm regularly ranks at the top of Fortune’s list of “Best Firms to Work for in America.” Many Cisco employees take great pride in their work, and all have an interest in maintaining the firm’s rep so that the company can hire the best and brightest and continue to compete at the top of its market. But when an employee went after a college student so publicly, the incident escalated. The media picked up on the post, and it began to look like an old guy picking on a clueless young woman who made a stupid mistake that should have been addressed in private. There was also an online pile-on attacking TheConnor. Someone uncovered the woman’s true identity and posted hurtful and disparaging messages about her. Someone else set up a Web site at Even Oprah got involved, asking both parties to appear on her show (the offer was declined). A clearer social media policy highlighting the kinds of issues to respond to and offering a reporting hierarchy to catch and escalate such incidents might have headed off the embarrassment and helped both Cisco and TheConnor resolve the issue with a little less public attention (Popkin, 2009).

Discussion Questions


Find examples of customer-and-employee social media incidents that reflected negatively on an organization. What happened? What was the result? How might these incidents have been prevented or better dealt with?


Hunt for examples of social media excellence. List an example of an organization that got it right. What happened, and what benefits were received?


Social media critics often lament a lack of ROI (return on investment) for these sorts of efforts. What kind of return should firms expect from social media? Does the return justify the investment? Why or why not?


What kinds of firms should aggressively pursue social media? Which ones might consider avoiding these practices? If a firm is concerned about online conversations, what might this also tell management?


List the skills that are needed by today’s social media professionals. What topics should you study to prepare you for a career in this space?


Search online to find examples of corporate social media policies. Share your findings with your instructor. What points do these policies have in common? Are there aspects of any of these policies that you think are especially strong that other firms might adopt? Are there things in these policies that concern you?


Should firms monitor employee social media use? Should they block external social media sites at work? Why or why not? Why might the answer differ by industry?


Use the monitoring tools mentioned in the reading to search your own name. How would a prospective employer evaluate what they’ve found? How should you curate your online profiles and social media presence to be the most “corporate friendly”?


Investigate incidents where employees were fired for social media use. Prepare to discuss examples in class. Could the employer have avoided these incidents?


Use the monitoring tools mentioned in the reading to search for a favorite firm or brand. What trends do you discover? Is the online dialogue fair? How might the firm use these findings?


Consider the case of the Cisco Fatty. Who was wrong? Advise how a firm might best handle this kind of online commentary.

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