Leaders should be encouraging staff to use social media at work

Getting all your employees on social media sounds like a nightmare. But done properly, it has huge advantages for individuals and companies. And it starts with the leaders, writes PwC's The Press editor Amanda Gome.

It was months in the planning. The firm’s big annual conference was coming up. The social media manager would be live tweeting from the company’s Twitter handles and turning the content into LinkedIn and Facebook posts to leverage attendees’ communities and garner media attention.

But nothing worked as planned.

The pregnant social media manager went into early labour. And the company’s guidelines firmly state that only the social media manager could do social media on behalf of the company. So the company paid an agency to send their staff to attend and post. They had very little knowledge of the conference topics. A flippant tweet attracted negative attention, agency costs were expensive and the whole experience made company staff furious.

As one said: “I am in marketing. I could have stepped in and done the tweeting from our handle. I also want to tweet under my own name about the conference but I don’t think I am allowed.”

It’s social mayhem. About 80 percent of Australians are now on social media, according to the latest Sensis data, and many for hours a day. Large businesses and small businesses are building their brands across all channels. And people are building their own professional social profiles. Clients and competitors are on professional social, along with government, regulators, investors, shareholder activists and even your personal trainer.

Gone are the days when one just used Facebook to amplify an advertising campaign. Now social is seen as the new way of working, which means all employees have a role to play.

And that’s what is causing the mayhem. It’s happened so fast. Clients demand consultants dump CVs and send LinkedIn profiles and bewildered employees get emails from bosses telling them to be social while some employees are posting random opinions, thinking it’s a free-for-all.

Social handles are being started by all and sundry. Social technologies are being introduced that don’t talk to each other, further entrenching silos. And in the boardroom there is growing concern about the reputational damage social media can cause. Yet the irony is that in a social era, staff are emerging as a huge competitive advantage.

The Edelman Barometer that measures trust in institutions shows employees are the most trusted people in an organisation on a range of issues, including treatment of customers and employees, company news, innovation and programs to address societal issues. And getting employees professionally social can help a company solve a myriad of problems, including better collaboration. Yet typically here is where employees are at:

Social naysayers: They make up about 20 percent of your staff. Their attitude? “My kids do that and what a waste of time it is.” They are often digitally unskilled, lack confidence and see no value to the business.

Social timids: they are the bulk of employees – about 60 percent.

They clearly see the value, have digital skills but lack social media confidence. Typically they say: “I would love to do more but what if I say the wrong thing? Who wants to listen to me? How do I know what to do? I don’t feel like I have corporate permission.”

Social cowboys – and girls. These make up five percent of employees, running amok, writing posts, giving opinions on which they have no expertise. They might live blog, thinking it “helpful”, when activists are in your lobby. They can be reluctant to share their skills as they have worked hard to build a social profile and don’t welcome the competition. However it only takes a bit of training to turn them into champions.

Social champions: These are your flecks of gold scattered across your organisation. They have built a great thought leadership position, amplify a company’s content where appropriate, are great advocates of social and can talk under water about the enormous benefits it has brought to them professionally and their business. Best of all, they love sharing knowledge and often state that social is about giving, not getting. So, to become a professionally social organisation with most employees engaged and active, you turn your naysayers into timids and everyone else into champions.

Yes, great, says the CEO.

So where do we start? The answer always shocks. With you, right here, right now.

Social is one of those things that if you don’t do, you don’t get. And if leaders are not professionally socially active, you will never get a social organisation.

And no, that doesn’t mean the communications people doing it on the CEO’s behalf because that defeats the purpose and all the staff say: “It’s not really her”.

As former Telstra boss David Thodey told an AICD lunch recently, he credits social media for cutting through management layers and engaging employees and it only takes a few minutes here and there.

An overhaul of your guidelines is also required and a social media playbook is a good way to explain how to be professionally social with clear employee user profiles.

A social champions program gets everyone on the same page and gives you the resources to reverse-mentor leaders. And you’ll need a social media strategy that runs alongside your digital transformation strategy because one isn’t possible without the other.

Risks? Given the biggest risks of social media at present are a lack of training and missing the big opportunities, your compliance people will be happier. And in a world of massive change, this is one transformation that people love – even, eventually, your naysayers.

Amanda Gome is The Press’ editor and founder of Notable Media. This piece was originally published on PwC’s The Press


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