Under its content marketing/thought leadership strategy, Burns & McDonnell aims for 80% of its social media marketing to be “valuable information based on audience,” and only about 20% related to Burns & McDonnell company news, says Fox.

For example, the engineer’s Twitter handle, @BurnsMcDonnell, tweets about a broad range of topics. Education choices and careers figure prominently, but such divergent topics as the genetic code, Japanese robots and wireless brakes for bikes are fair game, too. To date, the firm’s gathered more than 2,400 Twitter followers.

Firms venturing online today are following the path of early adopters like HOK (www.hok.com).

In 2008, in conjunction with launching its Life at HOK blog site (www.hoklife.com)—where staffers have published more than 1,600 blog posts to date—the designer published the initial version of its company-wide social media policy, which errs on the side of openness and acts as a kind of employee benefit.

“Our bloggers are encouraged to write about whatever interests them,” says Corinne Drobot, HOK’s global public relations director in Toronto. “We want the blog to serve as another creative outlet for our designers and strategists.”

Still, she added, in an email response to questions: “We all must be cognizant of the legal and personal responsibilities that go along with these social networking tools. They’re so easy to use that some could forget the reach of our content, and that a web archive lives forever.”

A More Controlled Policy

Contractor Barton Malow Co. (www.bartonmalow.com) also started testing the social media waters in 2008, and developed a more controlled policy at that time.

The policy—which was first vetted by the firm’s legal, information technology and human resources departments—covers the legal liabilities of sharing information online, disclosure requirements, practices for company-appointed bloggers and guidance for all employees who may decide to use their own personal social media outlets to discuss the company.

Barton Malow recognizes that one risk of open digital communication is the ability of some people to make negative comments, says Dana Galvin, corporate communications director. But that’s nothing new, she says.

“The thing that I preach with those who are hesitant about using social media is that whatever a person says online is already something they have said in public,” says Galvin, adding that people have always been able to criticize at any venue, such as an industry event.