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.

Less is More – Maximizing Employee Learning

24 02 2011

The economy has made great strides in the past year – things are certainly looking up – yet, for the most part, businesses still haven’t recovered.  Budgets are still being cut, and in an effort to save money the phrase do more with less has gained an unsettling amount of attention. Many regard this phrase as encouragement to work harder, to achieve even when resources might be limited; few get past this phrase (it’s almost an oxymoron), but as it turns out doing more with less is very possible. Jeff Jarvis believes that today, regardless of what you hope to achieve, collaboration is the most fundamental aspect of success.  He points to Google as an example, they’re a revolutionary business practice, disregarding more traditional economic models in favor of a Free Economy and Gift Economy. Ten years ago no one would believe that one of the most profitable companies over the past decade would achieve such a high level of success by giving away products and services entirely for free. But here we are, or rather here they are, a testament to just how much the world is changing.

I used this example because Google operates outside of traditional business conceptions, which is what needs to happen if corporations hope to effectively train those entering the workforce on a tight budget.  According to a 2009 IDC report between 2008 and 2009 training budgets decreased by nearly 20%; additionally, despite recent positive economic trends, budgets covering continued learning and employee training continue to decrease.  Bersin & Associates revealed similar results in their research, they found that the learning professional to employee ratio was 7/1000 in 2008 and dropped to 6.2/1000 in 2009.  To combat the lack of resources, corporate learning and development professionals are turning to new tools, specifically social media; this is not only very cost effective, the addition of social media to a training plan can allow for a much level higher of engagement – and in turn, more learning. This integration of social media applications into the corporate setting for learning purposes has translated into a new term – social learning.

Social learning is just as simple as it sounds, but it’s not only learning with others, the emphasis is on learning from others.  Social learning can’t entirely replace more traditional training programs – there is something to had in physical interaction – however, by combining social media initiatives with traditional training programs, it’s easier to encourage collaborative learning.  This blurs the line between teacher and student, fostering a more rewarding experience for everyone involved.  Since employees can access social media resources away from the classroom learning can continue at home (imagine a mobile Q&A for quick references), this should allow for less hours or classes spent in traditional instructor-led training.  Through collaboration on social media you not only encourage further development of discussed topics or concepts, you create a space for the collective development of new concepts.  This is invaluable because in many business realms knowledge isn’t always concrete, it exists and grows through experiences and insight people gain through real world contacts or events.

A study from the University of Reading in Greenland notes that subject matter specialists, or individuals with specialized positions, identified their own need for a place to share ideas and practices.  Despite being employed in diverse situations (the study spanned the US and UK in private, public, not-for-profit sectors), when trying to get more out of organizational learning they realized that it was almost impossible to create a publication or guidebook in the face of rapidly changing and complex organizational themes; it sounds like what they need, is a wiki.

Coldwell Banker, a international real estate company, recognized the importance of continued learning and is in the process of creating a video portal for employees – similar to youtube.  They believe such a tool is the perfect medium to allow for short, targeted updates to associates from the corporation.  The service will also allow associates themselves to upload best-practice videos, to share personal accounts of what’s working.  Similarly, inVentiv Health Inc. recognized employees were using tools like Facebook to organize and monitor several aspects of their lives, and inVentiv realized that by joining this space they could potentially connect with an increasing amount of their work force.  Since employees continue to spend time on Facebook after work, by reaching them there inVentiv believed key concepts and facts could be kept fresh in the minds of employees, keeping them engaged long after the training session had ended.

Starting your relationship with new employees through social media prepares them to be active and engaged – with you and with the customer.  Perhaps more importantly, by fostering learning through social media, you’re putting in place a mechanism to allow for learning to be transferred back into the company.

E-Mail Overload: An Epidemic

17 02 2011

E-mail continues to be a life-changing advancement, allowing an ease of contact where a phone-call would be too informal.  While this is very true, e-mail is not without faults – it’s killing productivity.  In any large organization, the attempt to disseminate information to large groups results in mass e-mails, and if someone hits reply all, there’s another round of inbox alerts; oftentimes this means I’ll receive so much e-mail in a day I’ll lose at least one important piece of information or miss something that required an immediate response.  For some, sifting through e-mail resembles a full time job, heavy users receive about 1,000 e-mails a week that require their attention in addition to 1500 spam emails which require enough attention to determine they are in fact spam.  Recognizing this overburdening of e-mail, many organizations and groups are trying different methods or routes to distribute information to large groups of people to help with this information overload and the related attention fragmentation.

Many are turning to collaborative communication software to help with this e-mail breakdown, turning to social media applications such as Facebook, blogs, or wikis.   For instance, 6200 students at Virginia Tech use the ‘Math Emporium’ to take tests and receive instruction/tutoring, the hours and availability of which are subject to change.  To communicate this to 6200 students is difficult since frequent emails require too many resources, and physical postings of lab hours/tutoring availability were not effective methods for distributing information.  So Virginia Tech subscribed to a Twitter account, believing it to be a popular medium which allowed for easy and frequent updates.  However, Virginia Tech should have conducted at least a small survey to see who uses twitter – by the end of the semester only 65 students (of 6200) had subscribed to the Math Emporium Twitter, and only 18 of those responded to the end-of-year survey.  When using social media to connect to your stakeholders (whether investors, consumers, employees) it’s important you choose the tools to benefit the consumer since you are trying to reach them; otherwise you’ll learn, as Virginia Tech did, if your constituents aren’t already using a service, it’s unlikely they’ll start using it only to connect with you.

Today, blogs receive more attention than e-mail, requiring active participation since blog posts don’t fly into your inbox.  Additionally, blogs can serve a variety of purposes, so it’s important that you decide a blog’s purpose and intended audience before selecting what you should blog about or who should write it.  For the purpose of employee communication, oftentimes it’s most effective to have the CEO or similar high-level executive blogging about company accomplishments and aspirations, in addition to more personal topics as well.  Once again, there is no right answer to who should be blogging – it all depends on your company and what you hope to accomplish.  For instance, some organizations have found success allowing individual employees to blog, allowing for a more intimate look into day-to-day operations.

A blog as an internal communications medium can also be great in times of crisis, or when important information needs to be kept confidential but distributed rapidly.  For instance, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina an internal blog could have helped organize and mobilize health care workers, letting nurses and doctors know where and when help was needed – and while you may want to let patients know you are understaffed, it isn’t always such a good idea to let them know the severity.  The same type of situation can easily be applied to businesses.  For those who believe that more of everyone should be involved in internal communication, I suggest you check out Yammer.  A micro-blogging service similar to Twitter, except that only users with the same e-mail domain can join a specific network – Yammer was designed with internal communication specifically in mind.  Already more than 40,000 companies are using the service, because it allows for easy cross-departmental communication and helps to cut down the amount of e-mail floating through the company.

In order to lift some weight from the shoulders of employees, and combat the often overwhelming urge to keep up with e-mails, organizations should consider alternate methods of disseminating information.  Providing information in a stable medium, where that information cannot be deleted or lost, makes it easier for employees to reference information long after it was first issued.  Additionally, by offering this information in a space where employees have to actively search out information rather than forcing it into everyone’s inbox, it’s more likely that employees will recognize the information as valuable and remember it.

Go Fish: Stocking the Job Applicant Pool

10 02 2011

With social media on the rise there’s an increasingly prevalent shift into two-way communication channels rather than the one-way methods corporations previously have employed, as we’ve discussed in previous posts. One of social media’s most unique characteristics is that there is no correct way to use it; businesses are adapting, rolling with the punches so to speak, and they’re changing the way in which they function.  They’re listening and then engaging consumers, monitoring their reputation in cyberspace (not only on their website, but in other spaces as well), and advertising/marketing is almost unrecognizable, if only so far as the marketing vehicles businesses employ on the web.  While in most instances its the little guy who first engages the corporation on the web, when it comes to job searching that’s not always the case.  Today many companies are actively searching for talent; this search once closely resembled fishing – it might feel like a big one, but you can’t always tell – with the addition of social media you can get a better picture of those individuals you wish to employ.

Among businesses it appears that utilizing social media for recruiting and hiring is quickly becoming the norm, its one of the more widely used purposes of social media among businesses.  In a survey by Jobvite in June of 2010, nearly three quarters of businesses reported using social media to gain a better understanding of a candidate during the recruiting and/or hiring process.  Predictably, most companies used a combination of Linkedin, Facebook, and Twitter to further their connection with the employee; there’s a breakdown by percentages showing the use of several more types of social media used if you follow the link and scroll to the article titled “Heard @HRMAC.”  When recruiting, companies are using these sites to increase their appeal with potential candidates by building a relationship (how often does a company come to you?), expand their pool of candidates, and assist with backgrounding – backgrounding can be potentially dangerous which I’ll discuss a bit later in this post.  But resumes are reviewed again and again to make a candidate as appealing as they could possibly be, by using social media a company can gain insight into a person’s character traits and passions – helping you choose the best fit for your needs and company culture.

Probably the biggest benefit of using social media for recruiting is the cost savings.  Unlike other uses of social media, here its much easier to see your return-on-investment.   For instance, before Linkedin companies would commonly seek out senior managers and executives through a headhunter/recruiter – whose fees usually range from 10-30% of the annual salary for the position they fill.  Intel Corporation used to spend millions of dollars in fees recruiting senior managers and executives using headhunters; changing their strategy, Intel started using Linkedin, searching for suitable candidates on their own.  Intel Corporation not only saved millions of dollars on headhunter fees, Linkedin was able to connect them with suitable, available candidates faster than the traditional methods of recruiting. Although, for those who believe you can only get the big-fish from the largest talent pools, some companies have used Twitter to reach out – generating hundreds of business contacts in minutes, or seconds for more popular companies.  While large companies are using these tools and finding success, it may benefit small businesses even more.  Since small businesses are probably only well known locally, if at all, social media gives them a chance to seek out top-notch talent.

A social media presence not only allows companies to seek out candidates, it draws candidates in as well.  Company social media profiles – especially those found on Linkedin – provide users with easy access to company facts/information, examples of their culture, and other details showcasing the company.  Since Linkedin is a recruiting tool, in this space companies can delete and filter comments (although one case of consumer backlash could change this).  Electronic Arts or EA, an international video game developer known for their popular Madden Football series, has been using social media to recruit talent for the better part of the decade.  They’ve used social media to such success they rely on it as their primary candidate relationship management strategy.  One of the reasons EA has maintained an online-presence for so long is their recognition of the fact that younger generations seem to hold an innate insight into technology and its expanding use – EA realized the best place to reach these individuals was the internet (Mark Zuckerberg, who would go on to found Facebook, created an instant messaging program to talk to his dad while he was at work at the age of 12.  AOL instant messenger came out a year later).  Early on, EA recognized social media as one of the most effective ways to connect to talented individuals; perhaps at the forefront of a similarly unique insight again EA is connecting with even younger fans recognizing that they too will soon become job candidates.

Using social media in recruiting practices can be dangerous, though not enough to discourage use.  A survey by career builder shows that companies often rejected candidates based on several discoveries made through social media: drinking or drug use, provocative/inappropriate photographs or information, displaying poor communication, and lies about qualifications.  Information should only enhance a companies recruiting process, digging for dirt is not professional and could potentially lead to legal repercussions.  While candidates may seem irresponsible for posting pictures of themselves drinking, being drunk is legal in the United States which in turn makes it illegal to eliminate them based on this; similarly, how someone communicates on Facebook is not a  representation of their business communication skills.  More importantly, eliminating candidates based on what you’ve gleaned from Facebook, is actually a violation of their service agreement, and any sort of trouble is big trouble for a reputable company.  Risks also exist if a company conducts their hiring practices through social media too heavily they could not only miss out on talented but less fortunate individuals (lacking internet or computer access), they could be violating the Age Discrimination in Employment Act – since an extremely small number of older citizens conduct themselves online.  Some laws also exist protecting job seekers from employers gathering too much information, this ambiguity leaves a remarkable amount of wiggle room for a potential lawsuit.

Social media can be a great way to enhance your presence in the job market, and to recruit quality talent to your corporate team.  However, you should only use social media to aid your applicant search – not limit it.  Instead there are other methods that are both legal and more effective to screen potential problems from your company, such as drug tests and background checks.

Power to the People – Enhancing Employee Engagement

3 02 2011

The professor at odds with our tech-savy world I mentioned in the last post, refuses to keep up with his e-mail, checking it only two or three times a week.  As a student in this position it’s difficult to describe the frustration felt after waiting four days with no response, and this lack of accessibility makes him seem much more intimidating to approach in person.  If you’re reading this post then you of course have e-mail, but where will you and your company be in 2014 when 20% of business users are using social networking as their primary form of communication instead of e-mail – according to Gartner Inc.

Much of the workforce has traditionally rallied around the water cooler, swapping gossip and seeking answers.  However, if the water cooler’s current population doesn’t know the answer, usually the next place we turn for help is a superior.  But what if that superior is stuck in meetings all day?   What if the employee decides to continue wrestling with problem rather than asking for help, wasting hours if not an entire day?  What can social media do that your water cooler isn’t already doing?  Many businesses are turning to social media to strengthen or enrich corporate culture and improve communications by engaging employees.  Additionally, by providing and/or monitoring social media sites, companies are given the tools to observe and influence employees and their thoughts on, or disposition towards the company.  Though many do not believe a company’s internal reputation to be as important as their external reputation, a positive internal reputation is often reflected in some part externally.

Professional networks are becoming an increasingly important tool when it comes to decision making.  Those professionals with a larger network are more likely to gather opinions from that online network and read blogs as beginning steps in their decision process. Similarly many companies are realizing that social media as a collaboration tool is almost as revolutionary as the Internet itself.  A survey of Tennessee communication professionals reveals that 90 percent of respondents agree that social media is vital in any communications plan, moreover, 79 percent said it’s changing how organizations and their employees communicate – by providing an opportunity for open dialogue.  The collaborating pool isn’t limited to just an office building either, it would allow input from home as well as input from other branches, even overseas.  If employees participate in, or in some cases follow, the company’s communications through social media like blogging, forums, or wikis it empowers employees to not only understand but own the company’s objectives and goals.  By giving a person a voice allowing them to be heard, and thus adding weight to their opinion, it gives that person a vested interest in the company.

Social media can also benefit the company through relationship building.  While it’s not the highest ranked aspect of employee needs, co-worker chemistry – or a friendly environment – is often cited as a driving force of increased employee productivity and satisfaction.  According to a survey by TNS Employee Insights when ranking employee needs, collaboration opportunities and co-worker relationships rank just after job satisfaction and the manager/boss relationship.  Co-workers connecting with each other using social media allows for richer relationships to develop in the work place.  In turn these deeper connections encourage loyalty and trust between employees and the employer as well.

One of the biggest problems implementing and sustaining a program is getting employees to incorporate it into their lives or workday.  Companies bring their employees to these sites, and encourage their use in several different ways.  Very important to the success of any social media program or initiative is the full support of and engagement by the CEO and any other executives.  Only employees should be given the choice to participate, anyone in a leadership position should be required to participate if there is to be any value in the medium you hope to develop.  Equally important is the need for the employee to understand the purpose behind a social media program.  They need to know this is a place to turn to for answers.  If the employer is equally engaged with the employee through social media you can expect 2 things.  First, it shortens the distance to those in a leadership position, allowing entry-level employees a level of access to executives rarely seen, encouraging trust and credibility.  Second, social media helps to disrupt the traditional top-down flow of information, as long as those in power use the application for two-way dialogue and not for simply mega-phoning their own goals.

Many companies are hesitant to relinquish their one way flow of information, worried about hearing or seeing anything negative written about them, but if you’re not made aware of a problem how can you fix it?  People understand that solutions aren’t immediate, and they’re forgiving. As long as you convey that you are actively working towards a solution – hopefully with employee input – there’s really nothing to lose from negative comments, only positive results to be gained.  Perhaps one the of the best reasons to start using these materials is the fact that employees entering the work force are already aware of and comfortable using these collaborative social media tools.  However, before implementing any sort of program you must first decide your intended outcome, then you can deduce how technology, or which technology, can get you there.

Sabre, a company that runs much of the world’s airline flight reservation systems, is considered a leader and pioneer in employee networking.  With 10,000 employees spread across the globe Sabre sought to unify its diverse employee base by creating its own social media intranet.  Named SabreTown, it had all the basic features of Facebook – a profile page with details, photo albums – and additionally they created adjoining blogs, forums, and a Q&A page.  One of the most unique aspects of SabreTown is its relevance engine (similar to Google’s PageRank), which allows a user to send out a question and the system then determines the 15 most relevant employees (based on their biography, title, as well as any information they’ve entered into Sabretown: blogs, comments, Q&As, etc.) to send the question to.  The only thing more impressive than the all-inclusive system Sabre created, was the results they were able to generate:  60% of all questions are answered within an hour; each question receives an average of nine responses; and while 65% of the company was on SabreTown within three months of launch – today more than 90% of the company is active.  Many question the ROI capabilities of social media programs but SabreTown has already led to more than $150,000 dollars in direct savings.  Realizing the potential for gold, Sabre developed a software solution for other companies based on SabreTown, called Cubeless.  It’s currently in its pilot stage at American Express.

If you’re still not convinced that social media could be an asset to your company or organization, try copying this post directly into Microsoft Word and autocorrecting (or swapping) “Employee Communication Systems” in place of “social media.”  If you think I’m pulling your leg, think again.  Many feel the moniker social media isn’t business friendly – even Sabre shies away from such terms fearing they may alienate older users.  Instead they suggest to worry less about defining your application or solution, and instead focus only on what you will name it and what it will do for you.

Social Media in Business? Sounds too.. fun.

26 01 2011

By now almost everyone is at least aware of social media – the Facebooks, the Twitters, getting Linkedin (link-a-din?) – and in too many cases those who aren’t getting involved with technology are abandoning it entirely.  As it’s the start of a new semester, those of us still in school are meeting a slew of new faces and learning a ton of ‘new’ classroom policies.  Most classrooms have the same rules, as is the case with many businesses, but like businesses each classroom has certain policies unique to their purpose, or the leader’s vision.  Usually such rules or policies are logistical, how many absences are you allowed, or if participation in discussion factor into the grade; in some cases policies are more extreme, such as one professor who has taken a staunch opposition towards everything technological.  In a scene right out of the ’90s my classmates and I are stuck copying from an overhead projector and writing notes rather than suffering through an animated power-point presentation typing notes, and simultaneously browsing the web on our laptops.  There are of course grumblings and those who don’t show up to class, but in the end the professor is the boss.  He likes things his way, and he doesn’t want us wasting time on Facebook, or instant messaging our neighbor a question, it’s his realm.

In this case, the professor can play the boss, but only because he’s not one, after all he’s not depending on these grades for profit.  In the corporate world executives rely on employees for production.  This inadvertently gives employees a great deal of responsibility and power, considering that without supply, demand can not be met.  It’s widely agreed upon that unhappy workers are the most troublesome, and slightly lesser accepted is the thought that happy workers are more productive.  With this understanding, and in our world where employee satisfaction is increasingly meaningful, it’s important to evaluate the most effective/efficient way to please your employees while aslo encouraging dialogue to be sure that such satisfaction truly exists.

Some businesses block or prohibit the use of certain websites or internet tools, believing their use to be distracting, time-consuming, and counterproductive.  However, a study done in England reports that 8 in 10 workers believe that being trusted to manage their own time and internet usage is more important than pay.  Similarly, almost a fifth of employees would turn down a job if that job didn’t allow them personal e-mail access during work.  The study shows this trend is most evident with people under the age of 35, the multi-taskers, a generation that has never had to truly search for an answer thanks to the good graces of google.  It’s not the case that people today are lazier or feel the need to be constantly entertained, the office day has simply grown longer due to increased pressures, and so individuals seek to bring more of themselves to the office.

Companies are becoming more and more involved using social media with the customer, but companies continue to hesitate when that social media involves their employees – admittedly, things can get messy.  There could be inappropriate pictures or posts, someone could post some type of confidential information resulting in legal trouble, and water-cooler gossip is no longer contained to the water-cooler; it’s pretty much management’s worst nightmare.  But all of these problems, are problems that are already happening.  The only thing that’s changing is the space where the problems are occurring.  Many companies think before developing any sort of social media program or initiative they need to create and define some sort of social media policy. In actuality, the majority of problems you might encounter on the internet are probably already covered in your companies policy book; this doesn’t mean you won’t have to develop some sort of media policy, but you at least have a skeletal frame, covering harassment among other things. Most importantly employees need to be made aware that their online identity is linked to their identity as an employee of your corporation, and inappropriate actions will be met with consequences.

Stephen Bard, the compliance communications manager at Wells Fargo, believes the services social media have to offer can benefit companies but companies need to be watchful as well.  He says companies should show good faith and trust their employees, but recognizes mistakes are made without malicious intent; it’s necessary to monitor employees and verify there aren’t any slip-ups, in order to properly protect the company.  More dangerous than internal gossip or bad press, the posting of confidential or protected information could land the company in hot water with the Securities and Exchange Commission – or other industry authorities – possibly resulting in a painfully large fine.  It’s not too difficult to keep employees in check though, new software tracking employees on social media sites is becoming more prevalent and reliable every day.  Leaving little room for error, Bard additionally encourages companies to connect with their employees through social media; following them on twitter, friending them on Facebook, or connecting with them on Linkedin.  (leading by example, Bard’s made 321 connections).  It’s not wise to abandon these new technologies, but many companies aren’t educating employees in a comprehensive manner, touching only on a few restrictions and leaving the rest to chance.

One of the best opportunities for growth when discussing social media and employee relations, is the use of social media to generate feedback.  It’s already being utilized in a plethora of customer programs, but companies aren’t lining up the same way for insight into the minds of their employees. Over the course of the next few weeks I’ll examine how companies are using social media to communicate with employees, encourage learning, find talent, and how the use of this social media is changing or impacting corporate culture – while providing examples of specific companies and the tools they’re utilizing.

Hopefully, my attempt at feigned technological ignorance in the first sentence of this post didn’t confuse you, it is pronounced “Linked-in.”  Want some other reasons to think about using social media internally: team-building, collaboration, recruiting, talent acquisition, not to mention it’s extremely cost effective if not free!