Monday, March 21, 2016

Are Your Employees 'Socially Engaged'?

Of all the strategies a company could conceive to win hearts and minds on social media, nothing is perhaps better than what its employees can do, if they engage socially. 

Usually, the Social Media strategies that companies come up with are not very different from the traditional PR. It is top-down, canned good news stories, written by professionals. It has a very predictable, managed feel. Managed by professionals who have transitioned from traditional to social media - what an inconvenience - it can not but be that way. 

But, social media is different because of the need for authenticity. Broadcast media has the reputation for editorial control (even if grossly overestimated) and this gives automatic credibility to something seen on TV. Social media has no such thing: Anything can be on Facebook, or Twitter. What such stories lack in credibility, can only be made up by authenticity. And, while one can, and indeed try to, be authentic, it is a hard thing to fake by definition.

In fact, most social media strategies are designed to kill authenticity. They are designed to stop the cacophony of multiple voices and to unify the message on social media, controlled and calibrated by designated personnel and agency. Just like traditional media! And, indeed, the advocates of this approach will be quick to point out its benefits - have we not heard those stories how employees damage the brand, spread rumours, and get fired, for saying, doing, posting something on Facebook?

Now, if one is sober, one knows those stories are man-bites-dog incidents: With hundreds of millions of people on Facebook, those are exceptional stories, and usually they are of exceptional stupidity or deviance. Besides, the unified messaging is not exactly about shutting everyone out of social media, but rather of company culture. And, usually, the more fragile the company culture, the more rigorous the Social Media controls.

Social media strategy, in a sense, more an extension of Company Culture rather than PR strategy. It is a great opportunity to appear Human. It provides a great opportunity for a company, usually obsessed with its internal language games and naval-gazing in its own labyrinth, to have that personal conversation. In a world where trust is in such short-supply - being on Fortune 500 no longer earn it automatically - social media is that field of gold every company wants to explore.

Seen this way, the very expression - Social Media Strategy - is counter-productive. Strategy, whatever it may actually mean, denotes a top-down thing, preserve of a select few. What companies need is perhaps Social Media strategies, or even better, Social Media culture. Once we accept Social Media as a reality of business life, and that it is critical, it is surely the job of every employee to actively become evangelists of their organisations. And, indeed, this can not be achieved through a dictat, because it would invariably involve the employee's own time, and unavoidably, their own equipment. So, no policy can really force employees to become evangelists: Only active encouragement of their passions can.

It is an ambitious goal, indeed. Disgruntled employees is a part of business. But then, that is that: They are there and no amount of social media policing would ever make them go away. But active evangelists on social media, who do it for love, is the best thing a company can have. And, employees can do it more consistently, with dedication and passionately than any customer. (One may expect customers to have more authenticity, but try to imagine a company who only has super-happy customers who only speak, or write, in immaculate English!)

I, therefore, think it is important for every start-up to ask themselves whether all their employees are socially engaged. It should indeed actively encourage them to be in Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter or whichever platform they like, they should encourage them to blog and tweet without fear, and engage with customers or partners freely and have a conversation. It should actively seek to create a social media culture, actively talking about social engagement in company meetings and promoting employee blogs or twitter accounts in its official channels. It should help employees to be socially engaged, offer training if necessary, and indeed allow them access to tools and facilities that may make these engagements better.


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