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Some suggestions on using social media

Michelle Hicks

Michelle Hicks

If your company is still struggling to decide whether or not to engage in social media, consider some of these statistics. Neilsen NetRatings reports 80 percent of American homes now have computers. Of those, 92 percent are connected to the Internet and more than half through speedy broadband.

There are more than 200 million websites now, 1 million blog posts and 5 billion tweets. Your employees, your customers and your suppliers are using new media. What’s stopping you?

Many organizations have valid reasons for treading cautiously into social media waters. There is risk of not controlling a message once it hits the blogosphere and in lost productivity if employees spend the day on Facebook instead of their Excel workbooks. Problem is, even though these are legitimate concerns they cannot be controlled. Pandora’s box is open.

At the very least, you need an effective strategy to manage communication through social media channels. But, there is an even greater hope, if you can harness the power of social media communities to gain market share and engage your workforce.

Step one is to understand how you want to leverage new media to provide business solutions. Are you in fast food? Maybe tweeting at 11 a.m. about your daily lunch specials will drive more customers. Are you a management firm? Having your company’s thought leaders blog about cutting-edge management techniques creates a resource for current and potential customers.

And, any feedback to the blog provides insights you can share with current customers. Make sure the social media tools you select have a purpose for driving your business forward.

Step two is to start with a position of trust among your employees. Let them know you understand why new media tools are attractive. Discuss the possibilities of building stronger relationships with customers and suppliers. Then, provide a framework for making it happen. Many HR experts suggest creating a social media policy as the guidelines for use, but many of the rules are common sense.

Don’t write anything on a blog or post any tweets you wouldn’t want the president of the company to see attributed to you. But guidelines alone are not enough. Provide training to your workforce about the power of the medium – its possibilities as well as its pitfalls – and how to avoid them.

Step three is to model the behavior you expect your employees to emulate when using the tools. You do not want all of your social media traffic dominated by summer interns. Their point of view is substantially different from company leaders or workers at other levels of the organization. Demonstrate social media is purposeful and your employees will follow suit.

And finally, provide resources to support this new initiative. You wouldn’t tell a department head to build a new bicycle without providing raw materials and people resources. Yet, because social media is electronic, leadership often thinks all a communicator needs is a laptop and Internet connection to implement new media strategies.

That’s a mistake. Strategies have to be thought through. They have to be monitored. They have to be measured for their effectiveness. That takes brain power. That takes people. A strategy without the resources to carry it through is lip service.

There are many reasons to wade cautiously on the banks of the social media river. Its current is swift and, once swept away, it is hard to predict the outcome. If you create a strategy, train your team, model your expectations, and provide the resources to carry it out, your odds of the outcome being positive are great.

If you stand on the bank and bury your head in the sand, avoiding this reality, the odds of your competitors passing you by are great.

Michelle Hicks is a communications consultant with Buck Consultants. Contact her at michelle.hicks@buckconsultants.com.

About Michelle Hicks