When’s the last time someone from your IT department participated in a Twitter chat on industry developments while at work? Or has anyone from your accounts payable team liked your brand’s Facebook page? Or when was the last time someone from your sales team answered a question on Quora?
Unfortunately, none of these scenarios are happening very often at most organizations. And it represents a huge missed opportunity in social media.
Understanding the problem
Businesses everywhere are making the same social media mistake: they are failing to leverage their employee base to amplify their social media efforts.
Have businesses entirely missed the boat on this? Yes! They have this incredible resource at their fingertips, but fail to capitalize on it. Somehow, they are oblivious to the fact that every employee has the potential to be a brand ambassador, and that each one represents an extended network.
What makes the situation even more amazing is the fact that many brands drop serious money on social media advertising to fuel their success, yet they don’t capitalize on the employees who are easily within their reach.
Why is this happening?
Many organizations rush into social media without even a basic strategy in place, so it’s hardly surprising that they are overlooking the opportunity to involve their own employees in their social media efforts. But what’s behind their blindness?
Part of the problem is that in most organizations, social media is an isolated endeavor — usually associated with the marketing department. This type of structure is inherently limiting. It reinforces the notion that social media is a promotional activity and “someone else’s job.”
The key to change
With a little investment, corporations can easily make employees the cornerstone of their social media efforts. But to do so, they should embrace social media at the corporate level. Ideally, they should make it part of their culture.
Fostering a social media friendly workplace will encourage employees to participate in the conversation happening online in their professional capacity. Doing so will not only extend the brand’s reach, but also contribute to the development of employees.
But keep in mind that some key people in your organization may not be as knowledgeable — or enthusiastic — about social media as others. To avoid alienating them, consider a reverse mentoring program that pairs-up veteran executives with junior employees with social media skills. They both will get a lot from the experience.
5 Tips to get started
Below are a few tips to help your organization tap into its employees to boost its social media efforts:
1. Assess employee social media knowledge
To best leverage your employees to amplify your corporate social efforts, you first need to find out what they know about social media. Conducting a social media knowledge survey can be a good place to start.
Your survey should begin with baseline multiple-choice questions about various social platforms, such as “How many characters can a tweet contain?” or “What’s the best way to use LinkedIn?” or “What is a subreddit?” Then progress to more advanced inquiries.
Ask subjective questions as well, such as “How often do you use Tumblr?” or “Have you liked the brand’s page on Facebook?” And include open-ended questions too. For example, if your employees aren’t following you on Twitter, you might gain some insights from a “Why or why not?” follow up question.
Ensure that employees can respond to the survey anonymously, and strive for 100% participation – no executive exemptions! Remember, it is critical to gain an understanding of the knowledge base across ALL levels of the organization.
2. Teach them a thing or two about social
The findings from your social media knowledge survey should tell you a lot about the state of social media at your organization. It will also help you identify knowledge gaps so you can develop various training programs.
As you put together some options, work with an industry expert and strive to develop a curriculum that meets the different needs of your audiences. For instance, be mindful that not all employees encounter social media as part of their daily work. In fact, not all employees are even expected to be able to use the Internet proficiently. But taking some time to teach employees these skills will help them and your organization too.
In addition, expect some resistance. Believe it or not, some employees might be fearful and/or suspect of social media. Remember, this is a common reaction to the unknown. Be encouraging and try to reduce their fear. Helping employees demonstrate their knowledge and expertise usually helps them overcome their apprehension.
3. Cultivate a social media friendly workplace
Embracing social media at the corporate level can really kick-up employee participation. But the shift won’t happen overnight – it’ll take some cultivation. Encouraging departments to take some time out each week for some social media fun in a group setting can be helpful.
For example, some colleagues and I started up a Twitter chat called #SEOpub that happens every Wednesday from 3:00 to 4:00pm ET. Those of us at the office participating in the chat often grab a conference room – and maybe some milkshakes too — and put on some music while we discuss SEO with people all over the world via Twitter.
The chat itself is industry-focused, which allows us to engage in the discipline outside of the limited view of client work. However, I’ve noticed an interesting side effect: many of the employees who participate in the chat, but who were not previously active on Twitter, have started using the social network far more often, and not just for the weekly chat. It seems a little positive peer pressure and camaraderie could be a great way to involve those in your organization who might ask, “Why do I need to tweet?
For instance, do your employees know about the company Twitter handle? Well, did you ever tell them about it? Simply add a “Follow us on Twitter” to your CEO’s regular company-wide emails.
Or maybe put social media in the spotlight at your next company meeting by including shout-outs to folks for their recent social efforts.
You can even use social media to communicate…get this….socially! Tweeting a “Nice job on that TPS report” or other encouragements as public recognition for a job well done is a great motivator. Just don’t assign work tasks via Tumblr asks.
5. Set ground rules
Sometimes employees are simply afraid to blur the lines of personal and professional on social media, so they avoid it. For instance, if an employee doesn’t know whether their online actions are “okay” from a corporate perspective, they may be reluctant to share a company blog posts or include their job title on their profile. But having a social media policy can help mitigate this fear and encourage employee participation.
A good social media policy clearly outlines the organization’s rules and expectations, along with consequences for employees. It is also shared with staff on a regular basis. That way, employees know what behavior they’re expected to have online, and the risks if they don’t abide by the policy.
Try to create a social media policy that is unambiguous and encourages personal expression. But remember, the more legal mumbo jumbo in it, the more your employees will avoid revealing their professional identity online. At the same time, the “don’ts” should be clearly listed out, no matter how obvious they may seem. Talk to your legal team, but try to give your employees as much freedom as you can. After all, you don’t want them to just shut down online — that won’t do anything for you.
Don’t be oblivious
More and more organizations are spending lots of time and resources on social media every day. Yet they seem oblivious to the key element that can impact their success the most: their employee base! The organizations that figure out how to use this important resource will surely gain a competitive advantage. Is your organization tapping into its employees to boost its social efforts? If so, how? If not, why?