Blogs connect CEOs with employees, clients

Staying on top of buzz in blogosphere can boost company profile, sales
By Shannon Klie
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/26/2009

Social media in the workplace:

In October, the Strategic Capability Network hosted Carmine Porco of Prescient Digital Media and Jim Estill of Synnex Canada. The pair talked about the power of social media and its impact on the workplace. For more information about SCNetwork, visit

www.scnetwork.ca

.

Blogs connect CEOs with employees, clients

What HR needs to know about social media

SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies


Blogs connect CEOs with employees, clients

In 2004, Jim Estill sold his 350-employee company to computer wholesaler Synnex and became the chief executive officer of Synnex’s Canadian operation, with 1,200 employees in Guelph, Ont. He soon discovered that while he still had a good rapport with the employees who came with him from EMJ Data — which he started out of the trunk of his car in 1979 — it was a different story with the 850 new employees.

“The others treated me like I was some Martian,” Estill told a group of senior HR professionals at a Strategic Capability Network meeting last month.

To connect with these employees and show them he was indeed an Earthling, Estill began a regular blog. The theme of his blog is time management and about 80 per cent of the content is business-related, while the remainder is personal.

Now his staff feel so close to him that employees in other provinces send him pictures from their kids’ birthday parties, said Estill.

The blog has also elevated him in his vendors’ eyes, who often treat him as if he is famous when they meet him.

“It almost gives you a star-like aura,” he said.

The blog also gives him a chance to reach more customers, which can only help sales.

In the first month, no one but employees read the blog and then it started to get noticed outside the company and even by traditional media, including the

Globe and Mail

and the

National Post.

“I sent it out to my staff and then my staff, without asking me, sent it to the vendors, and they didn’t ask me and sent it to customers,” he said.

Once he saw how popular it was, he started to send it to vendors and customers as part of other regular marketing efforts.

Social media in general, and blogs in particular, are very powerful tools, said Carmine Porco, general manager and vice-president of Prescient Digital Media, a Toronto-based intranet consultancy.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the number of blogs mentioning the Red Cross increased by more than 10 times, which led to an increase in donations. Now the humanitarian agency recruits bloggers during disasters to help drive donations, said Porco at the SCNetwork event with Estill.

Prescient’s corporate consultancy revenue has increased by 40 per cent since Toby Ward, CEO of Prescient Digital Media, started blogging. Ward’s blog also helped improve the company’s Google ranking because he linked to other sites and blogs, which in turn linked to his blog and the company website. Now Prescient’s website is one of the top five website results when people Google “intranet consultant.”

To grow the visibility of a company blog, it’s important to build reciprocal links with other bloggers because one of the ways Google ranks a website is based on how many other sites link to it, said Porco.

“You’ve got to get out there and meet these people in cyberspace,” he said.

This strategy has also worked for Estill. His posts regularly link to other blogs and online articles, and those bloggers often link back to him.

“If you comment and link to other sites, they will tend to link to you,” said Estill.

That strategy, combined with repurposing his posts as articles for various newspapers and guest blogging on other sites, has increased the reach of his blog. It is now the first website in the Google search results for “CEO blog.”

But writing a blog isn’t an easy undertaking. Estill spends about two hours a week on his blog, twenty minutes writing each post and another hour reading and replying to e-mails and sifting through comments before publishing them.

“I don’t post a comment unless it adds value,” he said.

Estill’s blog is only one part of the company’s communication strategy and he tries to keep it fairly neutral because it’s an open blog anyone can read. With the current economic uncertainty, Estill has been using his posts to help employees see the opportunities in change, no matter how scary the change might be.

Rules for success

He has only a few rules for his blog: Avoid politics and religion; never let anyone ghost-write it; inject the posts with personality; post regularly; and keep it interesting and valuable for readers.

“If you don’t offer what people want, they won’t come back,” he said.

And nothing scares readers away faster than a blogger who writes about nothing or who writes poorly.

“I wouldn’t post if you don’t have anything to say. That’s stupid,” he said. “If you don’t like to write, then absolutely don’t do it.”

Companies need to approach social media, such as Facebook, wikis and blogs, in a thoughtful way, said Porco.

Before a company takes on any social media, it has to assess what it needs to accomplish. If the company is looking for ways to help employees work collaboratively, then a wiki or a site such as Facebook is appropriate, said Porco. If the company is trying to raise its internal and external profile, then one or more blogs by employees are the way to go.

“Throwing social media or technology at it is not going to solve your problem. You have to think about what the issue is, how you’re going to succeed and what the key success factors are,” he said.

Just as important as choosing the right technology is measuring its effectiveness. Metrics showing communication or marketing savings or increased customer satisfaction should prove the technology’s worth to the CEO, said Porco.

Even if a company doesn’t embrace social media, being aware of what bloggers are writing about a company is key to a company’s success in the digital age, said Porco.

“You have to understand what’s going on in the blogosphere,” he said. “You need to know what people are saying about you.”

Kryptonite Locks in Canton, Mass., learned that lesson the hard way. In 2004, a blogger posted that a Kryptonite bike lock could be opened with a pen. The company denied it at first, but then the story was picked up by the traditional media and the public outcry forced the company to replace more than 300,000 locks. Posts about how to break the lock are still among the top Google search results for “kryptonite lock.”


Upcoming Executive Series event

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Jan. 13:

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What HR needs to know about social media

SCNetwork’s panel of thought leaders brings decades of experience from the senior ranks of Canada’s business community. Their commentary puts HR management issues into context and looks at the practical implications of proposals and policies.


Bah humbug, waste of time?!

By Dave Crisp

The exploding presence of social media with millions of users pretty much requires us to develop more than an opinion — we need to take a functional stance. That in turn requires effort, which mid- to late-career executives might understandably resent. It’s great to hear what’s hype and what’s not from those with real experience, but questions remain, along with the need to have an operating position.

Specifically, what do mainstream corporate leaders really have to deal with, if anything, when it comes to social media? If we’re the drivers of strategy, what’s our strategy for this? I found it helpful to hear a CEO who is recognized as one of the most successful in this area say he tried and gave up Twitter. One-line “tweats” not only don’t convey much, they pose a security risk if you’re advertising you’re out of town, he said. My thoughts exactly, though many will still tweat on Twitter, Facebook or one of the many other social media sites.

A more relevant question I’ve been asking lately is whether the 20-somethings who now spend hours a week socializing on Facebook are going to continue when they get married, mortgaged up and start families. I was intrigued to hear a younger corporate trainer at the event say her new hires are already forsaking Facebook for LinkedIn as “more business-like.” It’s also a lot less time-demanding.

Another question is what new, potentially more productive tools should we latch onto as they arrive on the market? Our juniors have skills we may need and they may be the early alert system we should pay attention to. At some point, at least understanding those skills will be necessary to keep up with what’s possible.

Where does that leave us? There’s growing evidence we can’t simply ignore social media. I realized I couldn’t effectively critique what I hadn’t tried a couple of years ago when I set up a free blog to test the waters. With little effort it has taught me to write much more easily and succinctly and to understand RSS feeds and other arcane jargon. It’s not that hard. In fact, it’s easy and, done in small bits and stages, it doesn’t take much time.

Leaders shouldn’t ignore the steadily growing percentage of workers who genuinely use and seem to benefit from these technologies — not when IBM sets up 15,000 staff with blogs and avatars on Second Life. The “time-wasters” argument doesn’t carry much strength when a vast army of people claims to find value in these tools and many say they won’t work for companies that don’t allow them. Besides, if hockey pools and birthday collections have become part of the social grease that makes organizations livable and workable, who’s to say these are worse?

Dave Crisp is SCNetwork’s lead commentator on leadership in action. He shows clients how to improve results with better HR management and leadership. He has a wealth of experience, including 14 years leading HR at Hudson Bay Co., where he took the 70,000-employee retailer to “best company to work for” status. For more information, visit www.CrispStrategies.com.

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Navigating uncharted territory

By Carmel Orr

Organizations are focused on employees who are engaged because they will contribute to the company’s success. So how can we continue to engage a new generation of 18- to 24-year-olds who value transparency and open communication?

Social media and web tools can help. Carmine Porco, general manager and vice-president of Toronto-based Prescient Digital Media, gave us some great ideas as to how to approach these exciting opportunities that, for some of us, are a new phenomenon. How can we, as HR professionals, use these tools to attract and retain new talent? As Porco pointed out, some of this new generation will not even walk in the door if you don’t have Internet access.

From my own perspective, being presented with a new vocabulary consisting of words such as blog (verb or noun?), Flicker, flogging, wikis and avatars was a little overwhelming. It was comforting, however, to hear Porco point out most people are out of their depth on this topic. His practical examples and approach to measuring a return on investment on these tools captured my attention. After all, is it not our role to influence our CEOs and senior management teams by showing the impact on the bottom line?

There are pros and cons to social media tools and there is a need for caution. It is also important to remember technology doesn’t solve everything — we need to measure key successes.

“You can’t impress your CEO with pretty pictures. You need to show how it will impact the bottom line,” said Porco.

There is a fear that access to these tools will lead to time wasting and cause regulatory and compliance challenges. But, as Porco pointed out, it is important to know what people are saying about our organizations. What differentiates us from others? Are we best in class? Why invest with us? Who has a link to our organization? These are all critical questions that need to be answered to ensure continued success.

Porco said you need to know the benefits of implementing these tools. Ask questions, he advised, because only about one-half of the people are measuring the benefits of these tools, which is a little frightening. Your employees are using these tools anyway, so engage your IT people and “measure, measure, measure” — familiar words to an HR Professional.

Carmel Orr is a commentator for SCNetwork on organization effectiveness and an accomplished HR executive who has partnered with business leaders of large world-class organizations in financial services, manufacturing, retail and service industries in Canada, the United States and Europe for more than 30 years.

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Social media and talent management

By Trish Maguire

I was curious as to how social media could reinforce the development of responsive, effective HR practices. In particular I was looking to learn how social media might advance diverse talent management initiatives.

Carmine Porco distinguished myth from reality. Three specific themes emerged relating to talent management initiatives: Advancing the power of “group;” proactively influencing people decisions; and effective leadership through blogging.

Advancing the power of “group.”

It was encouraging to realize social media and HR practices can positively leverage the “power of the group” and “wisdom of crowds” by:

• introducing and expanding communities of practice for groups or teams of employees across borders

• providing simple and easily accessible processes to support direct connectivity between employees and management

• expanding internal networks to enhance the sharing of meaningful information up, down and across the organization

Proactively influencing people decisions

. Recognizing that talent management is one of the core strategies of HR leaders, the presentation challenged us to visualize how social media can support HR practices that encourage managers and leaders to proactively influence people decisions, through:

• the formation of learning alliances among groups of employees

• the collection of employees’ ideas on specific needs for personal learning programs

• easily accessible resources that promote employee empowerment

• the guarantee of positive first impressions for new employees with a simple, interesting and personalized onboarding process

• user-friendly, best-in-class performance tools for meaningful and insightful performance assessments

• the power of employer branding through social media for effective attraction, selection and retention.

Effective leadership through blogging

. Jim Estill, CEO of Synnex Canada, presented a refreshing viewpoint on how executive blogging can promote leadership-friendly communication. He is dedicated to using social media to connect with his internal, and ever-expanding external, community. Tips and insights he shared to encourage the more timid to master the art of blogging include:

• being prepared to make blogging a usual business practice

• mastering the art of writing a blog in 20 minutes

• keeping the blog short, about 400 to 500 words

• archiving hard copies

• including personal information

• avoiding sensitive subjects

• commenting on other blogs.

Trish Maguire is a commentator for SCNetwork on Strategic Capability and founding principal of Synergyx Solutions, focused on developing customized talent management strategies for small entrepreneurial businesses. She has held senior HR roles in the manufacturing, education and entrepreneurial service sectors across North America and Europe and specializes in HR strategies that align people’s strengths and potential for high performance.

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