It worked for Zappos. It probably won’t work for you.

Zappos* is a successful company with a well-publicized, aggressive employee use of social media.  In fact, it may be the most famous social media model in all of blogdom. They have 13 blogs, 50,000 videos and their employees tweet like rabbits in heat.  It’s worked for them and it’s a wonderful case study. I get it.  But it’s probably the wrong model for most companies.

And here’s the point where the waves of Zappo-sniffing social media purists come crashing down on me.  So be it.  This is dangerous stuff.

It is relatively safe to blog and tweet about shoes.  But in many companies, the risk of an all-employee social media free love policy will far outweigh the benefits.  For many important companies all it will take is one Twitter-induced SEC violation, a leak of vital competitive information, or a national defense breach, and the hammer will come down on the use of social media forever. Policies are usually made to deal with the lowest common denominator.

Is this a leadership issue? Not necessarily. There are irresponsible people everywhere.  There are disgruntled employees even in the best-managed companies.   Where corruption can occur it will occur. Welcome to the human race.

So what’s the answer?

Under the following conditions, the Zappos model might be ideal:

  • Company culture supports employee engagement
  • Company leadership understands the model
  • Customer base is active on the social web in a meaningful way
  • Benefits outweigh risk of security breach

If just one of these conditions are not met, the free love policy cannot work.

That’s not to say that social media won’t work in some form with almost any company if there is appropriate training, role clarity, effective policy and boundaries. But you have to fit the tactics to the strategy — and the culture — just like any initiative.

A marketing leader has to make effective decisions based on what IS, not on what you WISH for. You can’t “will” a social media effort to work in your company just because it worked in the Zappos corporate culture.

For an excellent and thorough perspective on the need for effective and appropriate corporate social media policies, I recommend Kent Huffman’s recent post on the subject.

OK, your turn. Let ‘er rip!

*If you are unfamiliar with the Zappos social media model, Jeff Bullas has written wonderful case studies on this company:

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