Enabling Employee Social Media

Businesses are struggling with how social media fits within the larger process models they are familiar with. The purpose of this article is to help leadership executives understand the process of cultural shift that occurs when they need to address this very complex question:

“do I give my employees access to social media?”

This is a pretty big issue. In previous articles about social media policy and social media guidelines I detailed some ramifications around the decision. It really isn’t if they should have access, but how they access it and why.

For executive teams these decisions almost always revolve around statements of ROI and profitability.

So how do we discover the ROI?

When examining employee social media, we need to think about the numbers in the big picture.

A success venture in social media at the employee level takes two distinct routes:

1- tactical and focused: a specific person or type of person is targeted within the company and a very narrow set of metrics is located.

The problem of #1 – this requires a very precise understanding of the tools, the overall comprehension of the trends being worked with, and a full realization of the business metrics being targeted. If any of these elements is off, the likelyhood of success is greatly reduced.

2- strategic and encompassing: the employee group or departmental level is targeted. General trends are highlighted, including larger corporate goals that affect employee mindset and culture.

The problem of #2 – requires a strategic leader who has vision, capable of justifying return on investment against less tangible corporate assets (brand value, employee satisfaction, consumer awareness, etc.)

Problem #1, Realizing the big picture

In my article social media guidelines, I discussed the basic idea of how social media scales into and employee group. If you have 500 or 5000 members on your team, simple math reveals that a small percentage of your existing employees are social media adopters and evangelists. A majority may be on Facebook, a percentage using Twitter or Linkedin, or a handful on services like Youtube, Flickr, or Digg.

The hurdle to seeing the big picture of how employee social media provides substantial ROI at the employee level is that decision makers don’t see the connective points. A new employee or junior staff member may have a deep understanding of specific social media channels, yet they lack the guidance and motivation to use those skills for the benefit of the company.

To use a racing analogy: this would be like having the most talented driver in your team work changing the tires.

To find these “diamonds in the rough”

Examine your employee pool: conduct an audit of your entire employee base. This can be done as a research project, survey, or group opt-in. Collect anything that has to do with “social media” and break the results into top categories. Examples could include

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
  • Youtube
  • Digg
  • Stumbleupon
  • Blogging
  • Mobile Technology
  • Social Events
  • E-mail

Within this breakdown you will want to indentify some metrics that could be meaningful to your organization. For each social platform you will want to collect basic numbers for every person. (friends on Facebook, followers on Twitter, video views on Youtube.)

The key to this research is to not limit yourself to a specific goal. We are collecting information so that we can form an analysis of what you currently have.

It is during this process that you will inevitably find problems that go against your company goals and values. These case examples should be written down so that your corporate social media policy can address these issues.

Once we have the information collected, we need to review the overall data and overlay our traditional business goals. This requires brainstorming 101, looking for both strategic and tactical value components that can leverage the information.

To best formulate a tactical plan, it is critically important that departmental heads know what business goals they are trying to reach before throwing themselves into the brainstorm session. Some of these business goals will survive the process and some won’t.

You should also include a strategic expert who can validate business ROI points in different silos and communicate those value points to different departmental decision makers (shameless plug, in many cases that is someone like me.) It is important that this person can weigh each departmental silo and create a holistic business solution that supports organizational level goals.

The Digital Company

So you have a few hundred employees and different groups of employees use different social tools. This is pretty normal, as some departments will continually demand the usage of new skills or have a higher employee turn-over rate (driving an increased number of “new blood” employees into the ecosystem.)

If your organization is large enough, each of the social data points needs to be considered from a departmental and team perspective, as well as a demographic one (age,gender, education, income.)

This breakdown will identify gaps in how employees utilize new media. Extremely busy senior executives will typically not adopt new solutions as it requires training and adoption time they do not have, while newer employees will typically bring outside skills into the business but lack the inherent business acumen to take advantage of it.

Why social needs leaders, not followers

Leadership requires both faith and vision. This cannot be understated in creating a social media strategy for a business.

It is the responsibility of the executive team to blaze new trails and try new things.  To develop this leadership for online business requires acceptance and understanding (along with the pre-mentioned faith and vision.)

In the social media space, the unfortunate truth is that many executive teams have allowed the lowest levels of employees to thrash around as individuals, killing any chance to maximize return on investment or scale success stories across the organization. Having a “superstar” within the working structure of the business is great, but a singular person’s results cannot be duplicated unless the “unique” process can be monitored, reviewed, benchmarked, and integrated across the organization.

The Dual Mentoring Stage

A simple, yet straight-forward solution to this problem at the initial stages of your employee social media program is to pair senior executives with new employees. While new employees learn business skills from the seasoned executive, the executive learns new mindset for how they can view emerging trends from the junior staff.

The Coaching Stage

If an executive engages with a dual mentoring program, they should seek impartial guidance from an expert who sees the organization as a whole. This component allows an executive to ask for clarification on points brought up by the junior member, to say “I just don’t get it”, or have closed door conversations about huge opportunity and risk items that were highlighted.

The Management Stage

Once the executive(s) understand some of the core areas of opportunity created by shifting trends, they can initiate selected members of the management team into more tactical conversations that address specific departmental silos within the organization.

This is often the “mid way” point between detailing strategic thought and implementing tactical day to day process occurs. It is also the level at which large scale crisis items are minimized to reduce feelings of fear or isolation in management staff, while initiating training initiatives to develop their professional skills for the business. (note:  managers may also go through a similar dual-mentoring and coaching stage.)

The Employee Stage

Now that the leadership team is pointing in the right direction, components of employee social media can be maximized at the team level. This carries through dozens of elements, but hits some common areas:

Policies and guidelines need to be differentiated. Employees need to understand how they are accountable for business elements both online and in the real world, while also being instructed on what proper procedures are. (see social media policy vs guideline )

Encourage day to day interactions at the public level. Employees in every level of your organization want to have a successful business. Almost every employee has some public facing responsibility, so providing them with methods they can benefit from using new trends is important.

Encourage day to day interactions at the internal level. Management and human resources shouldn’t be scared to engage with employees. Employee satisfaction is a crucial component of a successful long term business model, which means communicating with employees via social platforms is usually a good thing. (Note: confidential or secure information should never be communicated over social networks, as IT and legal compliance concerns have significant impact.)

Provide both tactical and strategic social media training. If possible, utilize the internal team members who have developed personal expertise on different platforms and have them share lessons learned with other team members. This provides a chance to extend kudos to team members (i.e. employee satisfaction) and grow internal subject matter experts.

Connecting the Dots

To effectively mobilize and enable your employee social media, leadership needs to be fully behind the initiative.

I believe that today’s leaders need to level check and reset base business assumptions that are based on traditional elements. I’m not saying that traditional information needs to be discarded, but that a series of double-checks needs to be made at the organizational and marketplace level to discover if areas of business have been disrupted by new media.

Once leadership understands the disruptive elements that interact with their business model, they can monetize both opportunity and risk gaps with a mobilized team.

Has your team enabled employees to engage on behalf of the company?
(and if so, what tip can you share?)