By Molly Flatt, Word Of Mouth Evangelist at 1000heads.
Most companies’ approach to employee use of social media is basic disaster management. From preventing staff wasting hours on Facebook to ensuring those photos from the departmental barbeque don’t end up on Flickr, corporate social media policies tend to be heavy on restrictions and underpinned by fear.
No wonder; this is unchartered territory for HR. The divide between our personal and professional selves is dissolving; with the lasting success of LinkedIn and the use of tools such as Facebook and Twitter to recruit, network and promote ourselves, we’re beginning to conduct our business and social lives on the same platforms, in increasingly casual and conversational ways.
Employees are also consumers, and when we’re broadcasting our opinions on all other areas of our life online, it can be difficult to hold our tongue when it comes to the place where we spend eight hours a day.
There can be advantages of staff speaking out. Negative word of mouth online can reveal internal issues that may never otherwise seem a priority. And employees of a company have the potential to be its greatest advocates – a brand’s image blossoms if it is visibly filled with people who love what they do.
Of course, the problem is that the perceived anonymity of social media lulls staff into a false sense of security and the implications of public disclosure can be complex. Receptions have been sacked for microblogging their sickies. Primark staff are currently being investigated for slating their ‘fat’, ‘pikey’ customers on Facebook.
The new head of MI6’s wife recently hit the news for releasing personal details (not to mention photos of Sir Sawyer wearing Speedos) into the social sphere. These people are painfully naïve, but businesses also need to take the subject seriously and not just let their people become the fallguys for an inadequate policy.
Freedom of expression fuels the net, and rather than just establishing dictatorial rules, you must engage your employees in face-to-face dialogue about where the boundaries lie.
Executives also need to learn to alter their own practices to let the potential of their socially savvy young employees shine through. Social media isn’t just a set of technologies, it represents a whole new way of thinking and working.
The members of Generation Y are anti-establishment media cynics whose huge self-belief simply will not accommodate old “command and control” business styles. Digital natives are accustomed to storing all their content online, working from their smartphones and collaborating through open APIs and crowdsourcing rather than exerting jealous ownership over their ideas.
This has big implications for internal comms. Intranets and Wikis already feel painfully static, whereas secure internal social networks such as SocialCast - which offers a series of microblogging-style updates where staff can throw up an idea, a question, a link, or a document, and dig or comment on each other’s work - allow people from across all departments and levels of seniority to share in a way that feels absolutely intuitive to the Facebook generation.
This globally accessible system links into the trend for Cloud computing; companies just won’t be able to justify throwing money at massive internal storage systems and unwieldy servers when systems such as Google Apps, Amazon S3 and Zoho offer an eminently scalable and dynamic alternatives. Once companies overcome the fear of the new they might just discover how efficient and emotionally intelligent these technologies can help them be.
Moreover, if you don’t offer an environment that attracts the best young employees, others will. Dell’s CIO Robin Johnson recently discussed their internal commitment to social media – which includes their online ideas forum EmployeeStorm – and how important it is to get senior leadership participating.
“What you’re seeing today as compared to the days of the mainframe is a huge interaction between how people run their lives outside the office and how they expect to run it inside”, Johnson explains.
“If you know how to send a picture from your phone to a Website, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to use the same method at work […] adopting ideas gives people a feeling of validation that they can contribute and knock down barriers.”
In short, you should be capitalising on the skills and enthusiasm of your switched-on staff rather than repressing them. Ask the most fervent microblogger in your company to help make your brand Twitter integrated and fresh.
Find out which of your employees blog make them the core of your own blogging team. Pair technophobe staff members with social media mentors from within the business who can help them come online and start to broadcast their own brand advocacy.
As with all word of mouth, the place to start is listening. Listen to what your staff are saying, listen to what they want, and use their own knowledge and experience to help develop your social media strategy. Trust them. You might be surprised.
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