I spoke with Jason Falls, who is the SVP of Digital Strategy at Elasticity. Falls is the co-author of two books: No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing (Que 2011), co-authored with Erik Deckers; and The Rebel’s Guide To Email Marketing (Que 2012), co-authored with DJ Waldow. Falls is also noted for founding SocialMediaExplorer.com, one of the industry’s most widely read blogs. In the following brief interview, he talks about how to get your employees to understand their role with social media, the type of content they should publish, the mistakes employees make, and more.

Dan Schawbel: How do you get your employees to understand what they can and can’t post on social media? What is the best way to align their postings with the company they work for?

Jason Falls: That’s a great question because I can count on one hand how many people actually read the policy manual. The key to ensuring any policy you have is enforced is to continually discuss it and reinforce the good (not just the bad) in the office. Make it a point to find the employees that are really doing a good job of sharing content, aligning with the company and being useful in that realm and showing the rest of your employees what good is. The reason many feel as if they don’t want to be a part of any company effort is they don’t know what good looks like. That, and they think the company is going to try and force them to post. Illustrate what the appropriate use for them is personally and for the company as a whole and they’ll be more apt to want to help.

Schawbel: What types of content can employees share on social media that will make a big impact on the company from both a revenue and thought leadership perspective?

Falls: Any content that makes them (the employee) look smart in the eyes of the ultimate consumer of the company. If you’re in the financial services industry, your social posts that will be most beneficial to your company are those that share good information about investing, saving money, managing money and the like. These can simply be links you share from media sites like the Wall Street Journal, or they can be the company’s posts. The important thing for the employee is to carve out their own reputation as someone who is a resource of good content in that given area. The fact they work for the institution at hand is the residual benefit for the company.

Schawbel: What mistakes do you see employees make on social media? How should a company respond to an employee who is “off-brand”?

Falls: Assuming the employee identifies themselves clearly as an employee of the company (because without this, the company is less affected by their social posts, positively or negatively), the biggest mistake I see is the employee who mixes far too much personal that might be distasteful to some with the posts that support the company’s mission. I think this is why most people defer to the personal account only approach. Twitter and Facebook are more suited for personal connections, so talking about going out for cocktails on the weekend is more natural content there. But when that bio says “Company XYZ” and that drinking Tweet is there, well, that’s not going to be kosher with most employers.

A company should simply reach out to the employee and remind them of the policy. Certainly they can implement some 1st, 2nd and 3rd offense repercussions. But, depending on the nature of the company policy, at the end of the day, the employee either identifies themselves publicly and openly as an employee of the company and follows the rules. Or they remove the company exposure as much as they can and treat it as a personal account. I’m sure there will be litigation and the like to come in the next 5-10 years that will better define this legally, but if I were a company, I would err on the side of assuming you have no right to an individual’s social media accounts unless they are those created for the employee by the company and for company use.

Schawbel: Do you recommend that a company develops social media guidelines or some kind of doctrine to get employees on the same page? Why or why not?

Falls: Certainly. We live in a search engine and social network world. This is where people are spending time, searching for and finding information, sharing conversations and information with their friends and family — and sometimes about companies and products. Consumers are there, so companies need to be. Consumers are employees, too, so their employer needs to ensure they are not detracting from the company in their social postings. While there are lots of various approaches, both liberal and conservative and that benefit the company more or the employee more, each company should have a policy, even if that policy is simply: Don’t do anything foolish.

Schawbel: Based on all of your corporate experience, can you give examples of companies that have been able to successfully align themselves around social media and what they did right?

Falls: The easy answer is Zappos. They empower their employees to represent the company right along with their own personal content, recognizing that people are people and glorious in all their differences, strengths, weaknesses, etc. But these people also work at Zappos and can help you if you need something here. At Cafepress, our policy was that your social networks are yours but behavior there that is detrimental to the company is like behavior at a bar or anywhere else that is detrimental to the company. We certainly encouraged employees to share company content and help remind folks that’s the best place to get custom or personalized products, but it was never a requirement, even for the marketing team. For those that chose to share, they were always positive and aligned with the messaging the company pushed around our content.