Building Community for Your Employees

I recently accepted an invitation to present a workshop at the Social Media for Executives event which takes place in Las Vegas on October 14th.  When I first corresponded with @DoyleAlbee, I knew that this was the type of program that I would really enjoy because it’s an intimate, best known as mastermind workshops / retreats with senior level executives. This conference seemed a little different and offered the opportunity to feel connected to a group that would be able to dig into the heart of my topic.  And, even though I found out that I was traveling to Houston the day of the event, I still wanted to participate.  My workshop will be Skype presentation on Community Building:  Turning Your Employees into Brand Champions.

I’ve been thinking a lot about “community” as I work on my presentation.  I read @chrisbrogan’s post on Feeling the Community and a lot of what Chris says stands out in my mind.  To me, community means feeling connected and finding where I fit in whether it’s business or personal. Because we spend so many hours a day at work it’s very important that employees find the connection to the company and feel like they fit into the culture of the organization. The main focus and key take away from my discussion will be:  Executives need to understand that if they want to build a community for their employees, then they have to get the employees engaged and feeling connected from day one.

Here a few important things that I’ve learned on my community building projects:

  • The community should be for employees, about the employees and set up to answer their questions, foster healthy dialogue and through discussion work toward solving their challenges. It should also allow them to be innovative and share their thoughts with other employees who understand similar work related experiences.
  • If a community is created based on management’s agenda, and not necessarily with employee objectives in mind, the community will not be active and/or successful.  Those are the communities where people remain in-actives or spectators and don’t truly move up the Technographics ladder.
  • It’s not what the executives want to talk about (unless it’s an executive blog).  In any case, there should no company messages passed down from the C-Suite. The information shared is information that interests employees, and in many cases it’s what they want to share with each other in order to feel connected.

It’s also important to keep in mind the following:

  • Your employees are your front line.  They are the eyes and ears of the company and the group that interact the most on your behalf.
  • Your employees have the knowledge and the passion to discuss the brand with enthusiasm and loyalty.  When happy, you don’t even have to ask these individuals to be your brand champions, they do it on their own.
  • The enthusiasm of the first day of the job is the type of enthusiasm that should carry forward every day.  Although, we all have a “bad” day every so often, you should generally feel included and connected to your company.  Great communications, rewards and recognition help.  From there, the positive sentiment continues to grow.
  • Employees want to be involved in company initiatives in order to experience a connection with their managers, directors and senior level executives.  Involving them in social media will make them a part of the “family.”

It’s the reasons stated above that make it critical to engage in social media communications internally before your the communication goes external to the public.  I am a firm believer that your employees should know your social media goals, values and understand overall how social media affects the company’s business long before you’re community building begins on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

The best way to include your employees in your social media program is to use social media communications internally (teach and train them in social media) and have them collaborate and interact in a growing, healthy employee environment.  However, companies face concerns and issues every day, from how to build their social media policies to guide communications to dealing with an entire cultural shift from traditional communication strategies to social media communications.  Yes, that means you need a plan and in many cases you may wrap a change management program around your internal social media goals to truly anchor social media behavior and interaction within your company culture.

There are many interesting challenges and best practice examples of companies that are using social media internally turning their employees into brand champions on every communication front.  As an internal community grows and strengthens, you will see your champions become more poised to communicate externally, not only with passion but also with the expertise to represent your brand accurately because they understand the social media communication goals.

These are a few of the topics and key takeaways that I will discuss with a core group of senior executives on Oct. 14th.  All organizations are unique and I’m looking forward to learning about their communities and any specific challenges they are experiencing!