On Tuesday, January 9th I presented to the members of PRSA at their T3 Conference in New York City. With the flurry of brands rushing to the blogosphere to begin their Social Media programs, I thought it was appropriate to provide an internal view and approach to social networking by first, focusing on the employee and the challenge of culture.
Brian and I discuss culture quite a bit in our book, Putting the Public Back in Public Relations. When you think you are ready to dive into social networking, whether it’s Facebook, Twitter, Plaxo, LinkedIn, etc. and participate in conversations, we always say, “Slow down, wait….have you listened first and have you observed the culture of the community?” Understanding the boundaries and sometimes limitations of the culture is critical to an effort. So much so that it can make or break what you are trying to do. Why would the lessons of culture outside of the company be any different than what should be applied in your own organization?
I guess my biggest concern here is two-fold. First, companies are rushing to launch programs (both internally and externally) and don’t really know why or how their employees/brand ambassadors should be involved. Second, companies don’t take the time to educate and let employees know:
- Why it is important to engage in Social Media communications?
- What does Social Networking mean to the brand?
- How does Social Media change the business (process and technology) and align with business goals?
- What are the right steps and approach for employees to take based on Social Media guidelines?
All of these questions can be answered and achieved internally first, prior to moving forward with an external social media focus.
However, because in a lot of cases we are talking about a cultural shift, it is often difficult to get everyone on the same page all at once. Many organizations fall on the bottom two rungs of Forrester’s Social Technographics Ladder (inactives or spectators). If you can alter the perception of Social Media and change the behavior of your organizational culture to focus on internal community building, then you will find far more success when building external communities with stakeholders in social networks through the help of your own company brand evangelists.
However, changing culture takes time and requires change management. This can be a tough challenge as Social Media is not seen as a critical matter or a crisis situation to prompt immediate attention. I think that when companies decide to start internally to introduce their employees to Social Media and social networking, the effort has to be blended with an 8-step change management program to truly anchor social media behavior within the organization.
Here’s what I discussed at PRSA T3 Conference to better explain how to drive the 8 steps, as you build your internal blogs or SharePoint sites:
- Be a change agent by creating a sense of urgency to learn and embrace Social Media; point out management considerations including culture, productivity, and what the competition is doing to raise the complacency level.
- Organize your Social Media participants or guiding coalition to direct your effort; these are trustworthy, credible experts from various departments of the company (including the communications department) who will be the evangelists and work on building the internal Social Media program to gain loyal followers.
- Use the coalition to develop a strategy for the Social Media program. Whether the program is meant to educate, increase productivity, share information, or provide resources, you need to drive attraction, attention, affinity and action through a strategic vision. The strategic vision will keep everyone moving in the same direction, align all of the players and move employees toward a desired behavior.
- Over-communicate the company Social Media program through employee communication channels. You will certainly use new media to get employees excited about social networking internally, but also use familiar channels including: town hall meetings, posters in common areas, HTML and video email, newsletters, web announcements, etc.
- Empower employee action through continuous incentives for participation; incentives may include contests, peer to peer recognition, promotions, highlighted guest blogger appearances on management blogs, awards including SM person of the month, etc.
- Monitor progress and record short term wins; these wins include increased participation including comments, use of wikis, sharing of videos, downloads of video and podcasts, web analytics, great feedback from short surveys or questionnaires.
- Measure value that can be converted to virtual revenue; value includes cross functional teams, increased employee productivity, a decrease in email communication , shared leads/sales, cost effective ways to plan events, and other company functions, etc.
- Anchor new values into the culture; Social Media becomes a part of the daily corporate behavior. It’s no longer a chore or seen as someone else’s responsibility. From the top down, Social Media is embraced and new members of the company are introduced to Social Media policies and company activities during the on boarding HR process. Social Media is rooted in the culture.
Culture is the key to making Social Media stick. When you get your employees on board, you are taking the time to make them feel as if they are a part of the company. You’re able to listen and build better relationships with them. As a result, the culture will bind and your brand ambassadors will serve you well both on the interior of your organization and in external communities as well. Your employees are the first face of your company. It’s always best that they have the right information and they know what you are trying to achieve, especially with Social Media, as companies realize it’s a game changer both in the market and for their business.