The Most Undervalued (Or Overlooked) Part of Your Social Strategy

The Most Undervalued (Or Overlooked) Part of Your Social Strategy

Companies are starting to spend a lot of time, energy, and thought on developing comprehensive social media strategies.

The good news is that many of them understand the potential for social to have many integration points throughout their organizations, and are starting to consider more than just marketing or PR as applications for what the entire breadth of social – from listening to engagement to measurement – can do for their business

But inevitably what follows is a complex discussion about just how to get there, from resource to staffing to organizational design and things like social media guidelines or engagement standards and scorecards. All of that is incredibly valuable, and critical.

There’s one pivotal area, however, that tends to get overlooked in many of these discussions. And *this* is the distinctive thing that makes Dell’s social media so powerful and such an incredible case study, aside from just the stuff you see with their community content and engagement.

It’s internal social media education.

Awareness Without Participation

While it’s true that eventually, social media will touch or impact each person’s role in one way or the other and become more of a skill than a job, Mark Schaefer makes an important distinction here that’s right on the money.

While every employee *can* potentially be part of social media, not all of them will in an active, visible way. Nor should they be (and certainly not by force or demand). Just like any of our other pervasive skill sets – a customer service mindset, or some level of technical aptitude with email and websites and the like – some will use it differently than others. But everyone will be at least tangentially impacted by it.

Which means that our education and training programs around social media integration and adoption are really important, and need to be inclusive and comprehensive. They help set the stage of understanding, not just practical application. They help everyone see what social media can do, and what we hope it’ll do for our business, even if they’re not actively engaged in it for professional purposes.

Social media is a unique beast in that it can and will have ripple effects through an organization; what touches customer service directly can then indirectly shift product and service direction or communication practices. So it deserves a central spot in a company’s education and training programs.

One Track Minds

When we talk about social media training and education, most of us first think “teaching people how to use social media”. Which is great, but it’s only one perspective on social that we need to consider.

Our education and immersion programs need to be shaped and designed around many profiles of people, based on what perspective they care about around social media. Consider varying roles in your company, including:

  • Leadership, who want to understand the vision and direction for social, where it will impact larger business goals, and how you as an organization intend to apply it strategically (and measure it effectively). The more visionary of the bunch will be interested in large scale applications of social that can drive innovation, efficiency, or customer acquisition and retention.
  • Management, who will want to understand how their teams might use it (or how they might be directly involved), how they’ll be accountable for it’s use and adoption in their business area, how to manage the social employee, and where information needs to flow around the company both up and down the chain of command. They’ll be interested in how social can make not just their own role more dynamic, but how it can contribute in a positive way to their department’s or division’s impact in the organization overall (both internally and externally).
  • Practitioners, who will want to understand the strategic direction, their roles, the rules of engagement and participation, and what they’ll be accountable and responsible for while they participate in social media. They’ll also be curious about ideas and potential for how they can use it to make their jobs easier, or to make their customer and colleague relationships stronger and more effective.
  • Infrastructure, who will want to know how or if social media will impact the overall information structure and security of the company, and what they’ll be expected to support in that regard. They’ll also be interested to learn about efficiencies or more collaborative potential internally, or how social can help tie other pieces of communication structure together more fluidly.
  • Observers, who may not fit into any of the categories above but may very well be impacted by the results of social media programs at some point. Whether it’s a new set of information they’ll have access to or simply an understanding of the cultural and informational shift that social may have on the company, even those that aren’t “doing” social media can learn about why social is an important and central factor in business. These could also be external but pivotal people, like partners.

Jeremiah Owyang has some additional ideas here around the stakeholders and what they need to know.

Not everyone needs to learn about social for the same reasons or through the same lens, much like any other application in business like finance, IT, or customer service. Looking at social media education from several points of view can help you design information and programs that are useful for people no matter where they sit on the organizational chart, or what their day to day role entails.

What To Include

Core social media education components can be as diverse as the companies to which they’re applied. But in broad brush strokes, here are the areas that many companies are including in their curriculum and training programs:

  • What defines social media, and the business case for getting involved
  • Organizational goals for social media
  • Cultural perspective on social media in the company
  • Social media engagement guidelines and policies (and how and why they were developed as such)
  • Social media roles and responsibilities in the organization (who does what)
  • Social media applications in the business (where the company is engaged in social media and why)
  • Measurement and accountability practices, including data benchmarking and gathering
  • Information flow and decision making/escalation chains
  • Systems and tools
  • Feedback loops and continuous adjustment/improvement practices

There’s undoubtedly more, so please do share your experiences and observations in the comments. The more considerations we all have, the more comprehensive our education programs can be.

Whoa, Nelly.

Is this a big undertaking? You bet it is. Dell has a Social Media and Community University that has it’s own resources and management, leadership level support and investment, and has now trained over 10,000 of their employees as social media professionals (that’s about 10%). Their aim is to keep that up, but train even more people to be simply brand ambassadors through social.

That’s no small task.

Even if your organization isn’t quite at the scale of Dell, putting together a program of this sort is going to require someone to own it, and more people to collaborate on its development and implementation as it grows and scales. But if you’re serious about having an effective social media strategy designed to provide and receive more value from the relationships you have with your customers online, then getting your own colleagues in the game is an important investment.

So what’s your experience? Have you designed programs like this at your company, and what do they look like? What’s worked, and what hasn’t? Please share if you’re willing. We’d love to know more.

Amber is the president of SideraWorks, a culture and organizational transformation firm. She's also the best-selling author of the social business book The Now Revolution. You can find her on twitter at @ambercadabra.