One of the most useful panels at Blogworld Expo a few weeks ago was one featuring two of the most powerful customer service success stories using social media, and the characters behind them. Tony Hseih from Zappos (featured on The Personality Project several months ago) and Frank Eliason, the Comcast customer service manager behind the @comcastcares Twitter account. During the panel discussion, Frank shared something about Comcast’s social media policy that was fairly surprising – they have a completely open policy and have had it for years. Their official point of view is that their employees are allowed to participate authentically, as long as they disclose their affiliations, don’t divulge secret or proprietary information and don’t act as though they are an official spokesperson or allowed to speak on behalf of the brand.

How could this have been the policy for years at Comcast? And if it was, why were there not more employees participating in social media? As it turns out, the real reason is because many managers at Comcast assumed the policy was that they could not participate, even though it was actually the opposite. So they forbid their direct reports to use social media. Unlike intentionally silent companies such as Apple that forbid employees from engaging in particular forms of social media, Comcast had never made such a policy. The lawyers had never shut employees down from participating on blogs. Everyone just thought that they couldn’t do it.

The result was that managers were telling their direct reports not to do it, and direct reports were listening. So one of the big changes that Frank brought about in the customer service team was to educate them on the actual policy, which was far more open. His ongoing battle continues to be bringing a human face to Comcast, but as he explains it, the traditional media success that he has realized opened the eyes of Comcast to the power of what he was doing and gave him credibility within the organization to do more. Which leads to an important and interesting lesson behind the early social media success of Comcast: that if you can use social media tools create results that people start to notice, then combining it with PR and media exposure can be the catalyst to transform a single small-scale effort into a vast company-wide initiative.

Check out my interview with Frank, the latest post to the Personality Project: