Employees potential ‘social advocates’

Like it or not, they’ll talk about their company on social media — so HR should be prepared
By Liz Bernier
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/10/2014

Having a detailed social media policy written out in black and white is common practice. But drafting that formal policy shouldn’t be the beginning and end of HR’s involvement in social media.

Employees increasingly want to participate in social media conversations and act as social “brand ambassadors” for their organization. But to do so effectively, they need solid training and guidance — one of many reasons why HR needs to take more of a hands-on leadership role when it comes to social media, according to Jeff Waldman, Toronto-based founder of Stratify and SocialHRCamp.

“In most organizations today, social media is owned by marketing or PR… but HR needs to be involved in that,” he says. “The value that social media offers HR is huge, yet the adoption of social media by HR practitioners, globally, is quite low. So there’s this huge gap there.”

HR’s ‘social’ knowledge gaps

HR professionals can generally pride themselves on their people skills — but some are not quite so socially adept when it comes to participating in conversations online, says Waldman.

“They don’t really understand the strategic reasons for using social media as it connects to their HR strategy. And it’s difficult to know that if you don’t understand the basics of the platform,” he says. “HR professionals — there’s nothing in their training that has to do with marketing, or anything technology at all. So if they’re not coming from that place, it’s really difficult… unless they’re using it for personal use.”

That’s why it’s so important for HR practitioners to educate themselves about social media platforms and integrate them into their own work processes.

“HR views social media as almost an add-on thing and it’s not supposed to be viewed that way,” says Waldman. “The idea is that by actually integrating social media into HR practices, you’re supposed to be shifting and changing your day-to-day practices to integrate social media every day.”

And incorporating social media is no longer something that’s just nice to do — it’s necessary, says Jeanne Meister, a partner at Future Workplace and co-author of The 2020 Workplace, based in New York City.

“As the technology has become, in a sense, wearable and totally accessible for all employees, companies are now saying, ‘What we really have to do is teach everyone in the organization… how to use social media to drive business results,’” she says.

So it’s not just a matter of HR familiarizing itself with social tools; every employee in the organization can use social media to improve business performance.

Training no longer optional

Social media training is no longer an optional “add-on,” says Meister — and it’s only going to grow in popularity.

“Companies (moved from) ‘I’m going to lock down social media’ to ‘OK, I can’t stop people because even if I try to lock it down they have access on their tablets and smartphones,’” she says.

“Leaders have to move from trying to control the message to now the objective is you want to be part of the conversation. Because the conversation is happening, with or without you. So companies have to position themselves in the conversation and direct the conversation to achieve whatever goal they want.”

It’s not something that can be avoided if organizations want to stay relevant and involved in the conversation, according to Leslie Hughes, principal of PUNCH! media, a social media marketing and training firm in Toronto.

“Social media is absolutely necessary for all businesses, specifically because the mass populations are using social,” she says. “These social channels are just a part of our everyday lives the way that email was introduced to us a few years ago.”

Not having some form of social media training can cause organizations to miss out on the added benefits social tools can provide.

“Training is one of the biggest missed opportunities. I hope that businesses are going to start taking it a little bit more seriously,” says Hughes.

And part of that involves creating special training for senior leaders, says Meister.

“It’s not enough to just train the employees — the leaders have to be really astute in understanding what is the organization’s social policy and how can social media drive the business goals of the unit the leader is working in.”

It sets the tone for the rest of an organization, says Waldman, adding that having the C-suite on board is what can make or break the successful adoption of social tools.

“Oftentimes, I get told that they (HR) want to explore social media use, yet senior executives have said no. Unless senior executives understand its true value, it’s really a very difficult sell,” he says.

Employees can be best brand advocates

The true value of social media is when every member of a team uses social tools to promote the company’s vision, messaging and brand in a cohesive, consistent manner.

“Let’s face it, we bring our company’s employer brand with us on all of these social media networks,” says Meister. “We’re carrying this around with us.”

And increasingly more “regular” employees, who have no connection to marketing or communications functions, want to promote their company’s brand online, says Hughes.

“Employees really are the best brand ambassadors for a company — especially if they’re happy employees. Oftentimes, when we’re working at a company and we feel like we can make a difference, we want to disseminate the information about our company.”

Of course, there are always risks involved, and that can deter many employers from allowing employees to discuss the company online. But those risks can be minimized by implementing the right policies and controls, says Waldman.

“The first thing is training… if people are not educated, they could be more prone to make (these types of) errors,” he said.

“I would encourage organizations to not create policies — create guidelines. What that does is it gives every employee a box… it allows people to move around and do what they want, but inside of that box. So by giving people empowerment and opportunity to move inside of that box, it makes them a lot more satisfied, rather than saying, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that…’ The idea is to be yourself, yet to be on brand with the company.”

Having a solid contingency plan in place is another way for employers to protect themselves from the fallout of a PR misstep, says Hughes.

“Bad things can happen and the company has to be aware of the need to have proactive measures in place to make sure that if something does happen, they know how they’re going to stickhandle it.”

MILLENNIALS

Employees want control

As social media adoption rates continue to rise, the debate over who controls social messaging is intensifying. Millennial employees in particular are likely to want ownership over their own social media profiles — even if they use them at work, according to a 2013 study by Millennial Branding and American Express, based on a survey of 1,000 employees and 1,000 managers in the United States.

The study found:

• 54 per cent of managers feel millennial employees should own the rights to their social profiles, even when using them at work

• 69 per cent of millennial employees feel they should have ownership over their social profiles

• only 16 per cent of managers and 17 per cent of workers believe using social media to contribute to industry conversations is very important or extremely important.

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