Making the Jump – Successfully

24 03 2011

After six posts regarding why social media applications are an innovative, promising tool and how corporations are using them, if you’re not ready to make a push for some sort of initiative in your workplace, I hope the insight has at the very least piqued your interest. Now that the value of social media programs is understood, I can offer some additional knowledge concerning how to launch a social media program and what other organizations have learned in the process. Since social media applications are generally very cheap – if not free – some organizations are taking a foolhardy stab at implementing these social media technologies. They might set an existing employee up with a twitter, in addition to his regular responsibilities, and offer no guidance or advice as to what this employee should hope to accomplish. Such an approach would likely lead the company to believe social media is a waste; they would be wrong. Additionally, in some cases an online presence without value (infrequent updates, lack of content) is seen as worse than no presence at all — if you’re going to do something, do it right.

First and foremost, before thinking about jumping into the realm of social media, make sure you know exactly what it is – and I’m not only referring to the tools, but to the philosophy as well. Social media is honest, genuine, and authentic, the point is bottom-up control. You shouldn’t come to engage in social media only to drive subscription sales (though this could likely happen), the goal should be broader and customer focused; social media is not a push medium.

The first step to getting started isn’t diving right in as a corporation, though it’s probably wise to start experiencing social media through a personal account, if you aren’t already.  As a corporation search the web for those already engaged with social media and look at whose doing what and why it works.  Start following them, checking back regularly to learn the expectations of social media. It might also be a good idea to try connecting with them, since they may be willing to offer further insight. Recognize that they might be using twitter very successfully, but this doesn’t mean the same tools will work for you. You can’t start with tactics (specific social media), you need to define your strategy. Think about what you hope to accomplish with the initiative, and think about your audience – your employees aren’t a homogenous bunch – how are they interacting online, what tools are they already using, where are they getting their information? When you start answering these questions the choice as to which social media application would be most helpful becomes more and more clear.

Starting with strategy is crucial, it’s important to have objectives and goals as with any other project in business. Additionally by starting with goals it allows you to measure as you go along, and evaluate the program. Although it’s admittedly difficult figuring out exactly what to measure, companies are learning which factors are the best indicators of growth, and professional-measurement software is beginning to flood the markets. For example, measuring the number of profiles doesn’t mean a whole lot since it’s unlikely all of these profiles are active – a more effective measurement would be the number of active users, or the number of requests transmitted.

As I said in the first post, the involvement of executives in any social media program is key, this not only brings value to the program it raises the credibility. While the executives should be building buzz, using and talking about the initiative or program, it may not be smart to overload your audience with some sort of marketing push. You want your constituents interested and involved on their own terms, social media is unique in that the tools are provided but the user really determines how it’s used and what it’s used for.

Social media’s emphasis on user contribution and participation is generally very different from the typical corporate culture. This can be hardest part for many organizations, breaking away from hierarchies, corporate politics and competition amongst peers, and transforming that culture into one that promotes and recognizes value in individual opinions and contributions. This is only the tip of the ice berg when it comes to incorporating social media into your organization, there are many other things your organization will need to consider. For instance, you’ll need to designate someone to head the initiative and you’ll need to develop a system for regulating and monitoring user contributions/comments as well.

There are numerous benefits to an internal social media program, yet according to a July 2009 study about 40% of organizations block access to social media sites. This number isn’t that shocking, but considering that over 80% of organizations surveyed believe social media can enhance relationships with customers and build brand reputation, it begs the question why is there this double standard? The success of internal social media programs have the potential to generate good will and buzz, not only inside your company, but outside as well. For instance Deloitte, a large professional service firm, created an employee film festival urging their employees to create short films showcasing the companies’ culture and values. It was a huge success internally, over 400 videos were created and the website counting votes received 400,000 hits. The finalists were then posted to youtube, which in turn created buzz and interest outside the company.

On that same note, all sorts of corporations are running headstrong into the public social media realm, if this you I would implore you to first think about launching such a project internally. If you first get your feet wet with your employees there’s a lot less risk.  Your launching a similar program on a smaller scale, allowing you to learn some of the risks and problems you may encounter, which would provide a sound foundation on which to build a larger, more public program for the consumer – and succeed. Additionally, these social media initiatives help to humanize a large corporate workforce, leading to greater trust and employee satisfaction.  It’s hard for many companies to financially support a program without a distinguishable ROI – but many companies justify the spending, putting stock in the belief that engaged employees stay at a company longer, perform better, and produce more results.


Upending Top-Down Flow of Information – CEO Blogs

16 03 2011

Recovering from Information Overload

I’ve touched on CEO blogging in previous posts, but their prevalence in corporations necessitates a dedicated post.  CEO blogs are gaining popularity for several reasons, such as the easy way in which they are updated by the average computer user – allowing for frequent posts – and the personal connection they cultivate between a company’s head and the company’s larger work force. Blogs serve a variety of purposes, for instance they can help a CEO address questions before they are asked, which would allow for valuable time to be spent elsewhere.  Even when checking out of the office the executive is pouring over details in their mind while checking e-mail and the Internet, updating themselves with the unending flow of information; this often leads to multi-tasking, which actually has a negative affect on an individual’s work.  While checking your smart phone and responding quickly to e-mails may provide a welcome break, it ultimately slows you down when completing tasks and doubles your chances of making a mistake – according to a recent study.  Some might disagree, believing “I can multi-task.”  In practice, yes you’ll likely accomplish more by completing small tasks at the same time – but when it comes to completing the more difficult tasks, more often than not, multitasking begins to look a lot like procrastination.

CEO blogs are an excellent opportunity to free up some time and accomplish several tasks at once.  A blog provides a CEO or similar executive the means to filter and focus the interruptions they might receive during the day.  An executive can line up the day’s agenda, set objectives or goals, alert individual departments to specific commitments or responsibilities, and touch base with employees – humanizing a position that once sat in an ivory tower.  While only a small section of the daily post may directly concern everyone, as a member of that organization all of the information potentially holds value.  By posting information such as the daily agenda and what meetings department heads are in, it creates another resource before an executive is turned to with questions.  In this interconnected age, many believe you can’t get away from e-mail or question-seekers since slow responses might position you as an obstacle in the business cycle.  But many executives acknowledge they often deal with quick questions requiring simple, direct answers – these tedious, but often necessary, questions illustrate why blogging is a great tool to proactively engage these questions or critiques.  By providing information to a large audience you might already be answering the question in a post, or if a question is asked on a blog’s comment section it’s there for all to see, hopefully eliminating repeat questions.  Similarly, blogs are forever (you don’t clear the trash) and searchable, which makes them an easily accessible and permanent communications medium.

Providing employees with a birds-eye view of the company allows them to see how the gears are turning inside, and what their individual contributions can mean to the company as a whole, making it easier to visualize their job’s purpose.  Additionally this provides an excellent opportunity for recognition to occur more often.  I does not matter whether the CEO makes note of a specific department or branch, or even an individual – this recognition fosters a sense of locality, even in a large corporation.

The blog can be damaging though, if not done right.  It’s important that the executive managing the blog actually write it, as the blog should be an authentic representation of the individual and their corporate culture – after all, people are much more relatable than titles.  In order for the blog to gain/maintain value it should be updated regularly, and comments should be replied to promptly.  While others can respond to questions, it’s important that the responder accurately identifies themselves.  For instance, Phil Knight the founder/CEO of Nike hosted an intranet-based, all-employee global chatroom and several hundred employees participated in the first discussion online.  However, many felt the answers to questions posed were not actually from Phil and in turn, the next hosted chatroom drew a substantially smaller crowd.  Phil was in the chatroom, but answers were in part mediated by a corporate communications team.  Nike failed to take into account that there was a large amount of appeal not only in having questions answered, but in the genuine interaction with a top-level executive.

Blogs can be a great tool – but they need to be authentic, and they need to be genuine.  A blog should reflect the individual who is writing it, so an executive should not hesitate to include details about work-related travel or a great fishing trip, but posts should still serve a purpose.  Additionally, blogs need to be frequently updated or else employees will loose interest as infrequent updates diminish the value of a blog and discourage users from regularly checking for updates.