Why training staff how to use social media will help your business

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The Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK has warned employers not to ask for the Facebook username and log-in details of their staff or of people who apply for jobs. That this even has to be ruled on will come as a surprise to many - I wouldn’t expect to give my employers access to my house, or to my diary or to my holiday photos. But apparently some employers in the UK (but more in the US) have been asking for this data so that they can get an understanding of a candidate before they hire them, or of an employee they have working for them.

That this is being done, or even being talked about, reinforces the negative attitude there can be to social media in many organisations and in many recruitment processes. At its worst, it is a way to spy on people and something that should be banned from all workplaces and all workplace activities. This is clearly wrong.

Rather than banning social media or turning into a tool that is used to spy on employees, organisations should be encouraging and educating them to use social media to support their work and to support the brand they work for. A more restrictive attitude to social media is most likely to lead to a lack of respect of the medium and, potentially, of the brand you work for in that medium.

For many leaders and managers, social media can feel scary and like the unknown - there are new channels and networks and tools all the time, and the chances are others in your organisation will be more knowledgeable about them. The openness and sharing that social media enables is new to us all and is very different to the way that most businesses and managers have been used to. And for many there is a real concern that social media is about chat with friends and so it is wasting time in the workplace. None of these areas should lead to restrictive policies on social media, rather they should lead to training, sharing and education so that businesses can use social media in the most effective way.

The most successful businesses, and those that are set to make the greatest advantage from social media are those with a clear programme of training and educating staff about how the brand, and how they as individuals, can use social media. Both for personal reasons and for the brand. The line between the two is drawn, employees understand how and where social media can help them at work and so understand what kind of usage is acceptable.

For example, you might not want one of your sales team to be spending an hour chatting to a friend on Facebook. You might, however, love them to spend this time building initial relationships and credibility with contacts across a target segment or sector. You equally wouldn’t want one of your concierge or front of house teams in a hotel looking at YouTube videos for an hour, you probably would like to spend downtime searching for new places and tips in their city through YouTube or Foursquare so that they can better advise your clients.

Social media can help people to do their jobs more effectively and more easily - helping you to find people, find information, find solutions and learn things. At a conference in Cambridge last week, this was summed up most effectively for me by Charles Elvin, the CEO of the Institute of Leadership & Management in the UK:

Employees need to be constantly learning to help them and to help their employer; and social media is the best way of them doing this

To make the most of this, employers need to take responsibility for training their staff. The true social business has a process of training and educating all staff about social media, how they can use it, how they should use it for work and what they should not do. They may go on to train employees about how the brand uses social media and how they can contribute.

Social media offers many great opportunities for brands and for their employees to be more efficient and do things in new ways. Most people need support and training to make the most of this and it is this that should be put in place, not restrictive policies behaviours.

Four simple ways to use social media to help your job-hunt

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Today I was giving a talk on social media marketing and the role of the social media agency at the University of Cambridge. I took a few moments at the end of my lecture to reflect on how the students in the session could use social media themselves as part of their job-hunt. On how employees can use social media to find out more about applicants for roles - with many frequently-cited examples of inappropriate things on Facebook damaging candidates and employees. But more importantly how you can use social media to help explore, research, learn and prepare for applications and interviews.

In the short presentation below we talked through four steps that the students, and indeed any job-hunters, can take to use social media to support them in their research, applications and interviews for roles. These steps, starting with the simplest, must-do, are:

  1. Take control of your personal brand online - realise you have one and make sure you have a professional brand alongside your more personal one. Assume that any employer will look for you online and consider what they will find.
  2. Use the tools available to research employers - blogs and online communities run by brands provide a brilliant insight into the business and what they are doing. Using social media to research potential employers will furnish you with more insight and material than standard recruitment materials will.
  3. Find to people to talk from target employers to (and talk to them) - find people on Twitter, in online communities or on networks such as LinkedIn that work for employers or in the industry and engage them, ask them questions and their opinions.
  4. Experiment with social media yourself - the best way to start to engage and to control your personal brand online is to experiment with social media yourself. This does not have to be just about your job-hunt. Maybe start a blog about your hockey team or your holidays. Use social media and experiment with blogs, Twitter and other tools. Only then will you really realise the potential it has.
Social media as a job-hunting tool: The basics
View more presentations from FreshNetworks.

When does the online community manager’s job begin?

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START / STOP
Image by Compound Eye via Flickr

Many community manager positions advertised online ask for someone to help supervise and develop a newly launched community. In my opinion this is far too late to look at employing a community manager. They should be involved from an early point in the development cycle, ideally when plans for the community are still being developed.

There are a number of reasons why ensuring the online community manager is onboard from this early planning phase:

  1. They can get to know the platform the community is built on
    Knowing your platform, how to add and update content, how to moderate, how to make changes to user profiles is core to the community management job.
  2. They can be involved in the user testing
    If your community manager finds something awkward or confusing you can be certain your community members are also likely to.
  3. They can prepare engaging content
    Having time to prepare content for your community, be it forum topics, a list of future polls or a schedule of blogs will aid the smooth running of the community in the first few weeks.
  4. They can be involved in seeding the community
    Being there to seed the community with content and invite those all important first few members in allows a community manager to identify trends and get an instant feel of how the community is likely to develop.
  5. They can develop internal relationships
    Often under-rated, having the time to develop relationships with other employees who may provide content, or be able to help with questions that arise about your brand or services, provides long term benefits to the community.
  6. They will have time to develop a library of external resources
    Sourcing resources such as external blogs and relevant news articles allows you to quickly update the community and provide a talking point for community members.

When that “go live” date passes and you offer your community out to the world, having a community manager who has been given a chance to familiarise themselves with the environment and build internal relationships before the traffic arrives will only help with the long term success of the community.

Facebook visited twice as often as Google in the workplace (and why you shouldn’t ban social media at work)

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28/365 Far too much time on Facebook
Image by smileham via Flickr

Employees are visiting Facebook more than any other site when they are at work, and twice as often as the second most visited site, Google. Research out this week from Network Box, a Managed Security Services company, shows that visits to the social network accounted for 6.8% of all workplace traffic in Q1 2010, exactly twice the 3.4% of all traffic that went to Google. The research is based on analysing 13 billion URLs visited by a sample of workplaces in Q1 2010 and the company behind the research suggest that they underline the fact that IT Managers should be concerned about the amount of time employees are spending on social networks at work.

But the findings are not as clear-cut as this. And they should not be used to add weight to the misguided corporate policy of banning all access to social networks at work.

People are more likely to access Facebook out of work than in work

In March we saw Facebook become the most visited site in the US. With 7.1% of all web traffic (from workplaces, home and all other locations) going to Facebook. A smaller proportion of workplace traffic goes to Facebook than the average for all traffic. And, whilst we don’t have this data, we can infer that traffic from home must be much higher to average in this way.

People are visiting Facebook at work - but are visiting the site less often at work than out of work.

People are much more likely to visit other sites

By saying that Facebook is the most visited site from the workplace hides the fact that many many other sites are visited. In fact people are almost 20 times more likely to be visiting a site that is not Facebook. And because different people use the internet for different things to do different jobs it is unlikely that there are many websites that are common to them all. A law firm might ind that its employees spend the overwhelming majority if their time on legal journals and regulation websites, for example. But the sites visited in an Estate Agency or FMCG business would be very different. By aggregating all of these different people, doing different things in different industries there are likely to be very few common sites.

And let’s not forget that 6.8% of all web traffic is still quite small and could easily all take place during a lunch hour.

Social media sites are not necessarily bad

There is an assumption in some workplaces that social media and social networking sites are necessarily bad for employees. I have seen some internal social media policies that state “We should discourage employees from using social media”. This is dangerous and also denies the benefit that social media can bring to any organisation. Social media is becoming increasingly important for any business - wanting to work with and engage stakeholders, customers and even employees themselves online.

Social media can be scary - and  even business needs to write a social media policy. But the basis of this should not be banning things but encouraging people to use things. Your employees are already talking about your company in social media, talking to customers and representing you. Whether you know it or not and whether you want them to or not. The best approach is not to ban people but to give them training. To tell them what is reasonable and what is not and to encourage them to represent the business appropriately online.

Firms don’t ban employees from talking to other people, answering the phone or responding to emails. But they do give them training on how to do these things and what they should, and shouldn’t, say. They should take this approach to social media and not one that bans things.

Most firms are anxious because they have no social media policy

Most firms are anxious about the amount of time employees are spending on social media sites for two reasons:

  • They don’t understand what they are doing on the sites
  • They have no policy to deal with it

The simplest thing any business should do is to write a social media policy, and to write one that encourages people to use and to represent themselves and the firm in social media in the right way. The policy should not ban, but should offer training. Employees are using social media already and talking about their employer the work that they do. They should be your best brand advocates online, but banning social media will not achieve this.

Research by Manpower earlier this year showed that 80% of firms have no social media policy. For me this is the biggest concern, not the amount of time people are spending on certain sites relative to other sites.

Does your firm not have a social media policy?

If your firm is one of the 80% without a social media policy then take a look at our previous posts on:

What to do once your firm’s social media policy is written

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Image by Crystl via Flickr

A couple of weeks ago, we wrote about how to write your firm’s social media policy. How it was important, first and foremost, for firms to have a social media policy. And  that it is best to involve employees throughout the process of developing and implementing it.

For any firm, a social media policy is sensible. Your employees are already all using social media, they are talking to each other on their, they  might say who they work for, they are giving advice to friends and maybe to customers. Having a vibrant and active set of employees online is great for any firm, but a simple set of guidelines helps both the brand and also the employees.

But once you have your social media policy written, that’s not the end of the story. It should be a living document, and critically one that your employees buy into an believe in. You want use of social media to become part of your employees lives. And you want your brand to benefit from this involvement, from having employees active in social media and from having conversations about them, you and your brand. So writing a policy is just the first step. Below are four steps to help ensure that, once you have it written, your firm’s social media strategy stays relevant and beneficial to your organisation.

1. Make it a visible, shareable document

The main purpose of any social media strategy should be to encourage employees to use social media, to help them do this, and to help them do it in a way that protects them and the brand they work for. As such it isn’t so much a static policy to be filed away somewhere; rather, it should be a living document that is easy for people to find, read and make suggestions for.

2. Have an internal social media champion

Have an internal social media champion in your firm. Or have many. They should be the first port of call for people  if they have a query about what they should, or shouldn’t be doing. They should make sure people know about the policy and help others to understand it. But, perhaps more importantly, they should be be encouraging  people to use social media, to try new things and to innovate. It’s important for your firm to stay abreast of changes in social media, and  to make sure you have a serious and committed presence online. Your employees are your best representatives; get them out there.

3. Talk about social media success

Social media shouldn’t be an add-on; it should be part of what you do. Maybe it helps you to solve customers’ problems more quickly, maybe there’s been a great conversation about your brand, or maybe somebody just had a great idea that you found out about. Make sure you are taking every opportunity to champion success stories and people in your firm using social media well. Talk about it often to reinforce how important it is and to encourage people to try new things.

4. Keep things moving

The worst thing that can happen to your social media policy is that it becomes out-of-date. And as social media and our use of it online is changing so rapidly, this is a real danger. So make sure you keep things moving, work with your champions to keep abreast of what people are doing, and where they are doing it. Allow employees to comment on and make suggestions for your policy. But, perhaps most important, is to make sure your policy is written about behaviours and not specific social media tools. We may all be talking about Twitter  right now, but soon it will be something else.