Time for the right discussion about social media in the office


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Many companies have made their decision about social media usage by employees during office hours. Some companies don’t allow anything, some have limited access policies and others allow everything. Each of these decisions is carefully taken after a long and sometimes difficult discussion. Looking back at some of these discussions I was involved in, I tend to conclude that most companies held the wrong discussion. The real question is: how can we train and facilitate our people to use social media in a smart way?

The facts: 50-50

Looking at our latest B2B study about social media, ‘the 4 C’s of the Conversation Company’, we learned that half of the companies is allowing social media, the other half does not allow it.

The decision is often based on the personal opinion of the members of the management team. Management teams don’t have other resources available to base their decision on. The studies about this topic are not pointing in the same direction. When you look at the HR research about this topic, we learn different opinions. In his latest book, Brian Solis, made an interesting summary of some of these studies. In 2010, Wired published a story based on a study by Morse PLC. This study estimates on-the-job usage of social media is costing British companies 2,2 billion dollars per year. This study considered every minute spend on social media as a non-productive minute. Then there is the study from the University of Melbourne. This research concludes that spending time on social networks is the most productive way for employees to relax at work. Employees who surf the internet for fun during working hours (for less than 20% of their work time), were 9% more productive than people who didn’t use social media.

The two illusions in this discussion

Companies that allow employees to use social media, have the idea that they facilitate their people to become ambassadors and to get closer to the consumer. The level of trust by these companies in their employees is fantastic, but their hypotheses is an illusion. In most cases, employees don’t become active ambassadors because social media usage is allowed. In some companies it happens, but these are typically companies who have a culture of sharing their stories. Most companies don’t have such a culture and opening up social media does not automatically change that.

Companies that don’t allow employees to use social media, hope that this decision will avoid problems and a decreasing effectiveness. I guess we all know this hypotheses is an illusion as well.

The real question: training & facilitation

There is one thing that I am sure of: if the medium is used in a smart way, the opportunities for companies to let their employees use social media are big. So, the real question is not: should or should we not allow employees to use social media during working hours. The question with impact is: how can we train and facilitate employees to use social media in a smart way.

Two cases to get inspired

1. Intel IQ program

In the early days of its social media strategy, Intel launched the Digital IQ Programme. This was an internal training programme designed to enhance the knowledge of every Intel employee with regard to the use of new media. It is an impressive programme, which can serve as a model for other companies to follow. It consists of no fewer than 100 separate modules and is based entirely on self-training. Each module has a short video, supplementary texts and a test. Once you have successfully completed the test, you can move on to the next module. Each module takes about 30 minutes to complete.

When the programme was first introduced in 2008, there was a degree of scepticism within the company. 10 months later it was already clear that this scepticism was unfounded. By this time, Intel staff had already completed 18,000 modules and 16,000 hours of training. 68% of the trainees found the content immediately useful in their daily work. The key target groups were the sales and marketing people within the company. For these groups the training was compulsory. However, it was also opened to others in the company who might be interested (the only training for which this option was available). Within the key groups there were three different training levels. The highest and most specialised level was reserved for the digital marketing teams. The next level was focused on bloggers and communication managers. The lowest level was for sales and account managers, so that they could use online tools to contact their customers. This gradated method of working ensured maximum relevancy.

The training was later extended with a new module: Intel Digital IQ500. If staff managed to pass this test with success, they were authorised to talk in the name of Intel online. Intel was keen (and still is) for more and more of its employees to become spokespersons for the company. Ekaterina Walter, the social media strategist at Intel, adds an important nuance to this decision: ‘Your brand is only as strong as the culture that supports that brand. Because our company culture is clear and robust, it is relatively easy to let our staff talk about Intel online. But this will not be the case in every company. Training alone is not enough; the underlying culture has to be rock-solid.’

2. Edelman Martial Art program

Edelman is a worldwide player in the PR sector, with more than 3,600 employees in over 50 countries. One of their most recent challenges was to transform themselves from an ‘ordinary’ PR company to a PR company in the digital era. Phil Gomes was responsible for making Edelman’s global operations more digitally aware. One of the first steps was to rewrite the job profiles of all staff to reflect the requirements of digital communication. Tasks such as ‘observing conversations’ and ‘managing a consumer community’ were something totally new in the PR industry. Once the new profiles had been written, it was clear that most staff needed to learn new competencies in order to carry out their new responsibilities effectively. Initially, the company began a programme where the trainees came together in the same location to receive their training. This was not only very expensive, but took little account of people’s deadlines and agendas. In short, it was not cost-effective. The idea gradually grew that self-training might be a better way forward. The structure of this training is based on the hierarchy used in combat sports such as judo. Employees are awarded digital ‘belts’ in different colours: white, yellow, orange, green, blue, brown or black. Every time you complete a module and its related test with success, you are awarded a new belt. Each module consists of 8-12 short exercises. Each exercise is based on a 5-minute film. The employees are free to set their own training tempo. If someone ‘wins’ a new belt, their profile on the internal communication platform is immediately updated. Cheating is avoided by providing a sufficiently wide range of questions for each level. This means that each test contains a different selection of questions, so that answers cannot easily be passed on from one employee to another. Moreover, the training is regularly updated to reflect market evolutions. If newer trainings need to be created, the black belts are automatically reduced to a lower level. Once they have completed the new training successfully, they get their black belt back again. More recently, more specialised levels of training have been added to the programme. Completion of these additions does not earn the trainee a new belt, but rather a digital badge which is added to their internal profile – for example, a badge which shows that you are an expert in managing PR crises. Many people like this competitive element, and it is also useful when putting together teams for external projects. In just a few years time, Edelman has managed to train over 1,000 black belts. This means that one-third of their workforce now has an in-depth knowledge of the latest digital evolutions – which not only represents a huge added value for the company, but also for its customers.

Your experience?

What are your experiences in training and facilitating your employees in the usage of social media from a professional point of view?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Steven Van Belleghem
Steven Van Belleghem is inspirator at B-Conversational. He is an inspirator, a coach and gives strategic advice to help companies better understand the world of conversations, social media and digital marketing. In 2010, he published his first book The Conversation Manager, which became a management literature bestseller and was awarded with the Marketing Literature Prize. In 2012, The Conversation Company was published. Steven is also part time Marketing Professor at the Vlerick Management School. He is a former managing partner of the innovative research agency InSites Consulting.


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