Company employees can be the technology PR professional’s most useful ally. Enthusiastic and loyal employees are a great advert for technology firms. Employees from all departments who talk about your company can do your marketing for you, defend and promote your products and keep brands alive. With the rise of social media, that talk has a much bigger audience meaning that positive company messages have a greater potential reach.

But what happens if your employees lose their enthusiasm?

PR executives at technology firm RIM, the company behind Blackberry, had a terrible year last year, struggling to keep the lid on technical disasters and posts from disgruntled employees. Their reactions were slow and indecisive and did little to counter complaints as the negative messages spread. A glance at their policy for dealing with comments on social media, shows that they have a defensive, even negative approach to dealing with mentions online and they are not alone.

The fear of losing control of corporate communications is driving social media policy

Some tech firms do not have a policy at all while others, who do not trust their employees and fear the lack of control, opt for a blanket ban on the use of social media.

Reports show that employees are happier if they are permitted to use social media at work. Firms have responded by investing in their own secure, corporate social media channels for internal communications.  Many electronics and engineering firms use secure corporate social media tools like; Yammer, Saleforce’s Chatter or Telligent Enterprise to maintain the illusion of control. Engineering firm, Tecnatom has created an award winning social intranet with plugins that mimic twitter, facebook and blogs, known as Keops 2.0

If the communication and activity such systems facilitate is private, it is not fully benefitting the company. The employees are effectively, playing in a walled garden. A few social media gaffs may be prevented but these employees will no doubt use their own phones and social media accounts at home, when the employer is not monitoring their activity. The danger is that employers will be complacent and fail to monitor and respond to social media channels because they do not regularly engage with them at a corporate level.

Top tech firms embrace and exploit social media.

Intel and Dell actively encourage the use of social media by their employees. Their policies reflect their open minded attitude.

Intel’s forward thinking policy is full of common sense. They have one policy for employees and one for individuals engaged to use social media on the company’s behalf. These policies are short and sweet. Honesty is the cornerstone of both.

“every employee in every department can have an opportunity to contribute to social media — so the company invested in building great training programs and establishing clear and simple guidelines on engagement.” Becky Brown, Intel

Intel: Listening, Learning, and Changing, presented by Becky Brown from on Vimeo.

Intel: Listening, Learning, and Changing, presented by Becky Brown from on Vimeo.

It takes a confident CEO to let his employees loose on Facebook but Dell minimizes the risk of Amy Fowler-Tennison, Dell’s SMaC University Program Lead

Dell have set up a Facebook site to show small businesses how they can benefit from social media.

They also use social media listening tools from Radian6 to monitor activity online and facilitate a response.

Successful technology firms like Dell and Intel know how to exploit the talent and enthusiasm of their employees for good PR and they lead he way in minimizing risk with effective social media training and quality systems to monitor and respond to both positive and negative social media activity.