Social media appeared en masse about 3500 days ago. In the blink of an eye, 1 in 4 people on the plant have embraced some form of social media.
What I think is interesting is businesses’ initial reaction to social media has remained largely unchanged: That social media presents a risk, a threat and therefore it needs to be managed by putting in place strict controls and policies across the organisation.
These controls and policies have taken the form of blocking employee access, long and confusing lists of rules, and serious sanctions for any breaches including potential dismissal. The latter, inevitably leads to a high probability that the dismissed employee mounts a case for unfair dismissal. Expensive, time consuming, and often very public no one wins in this scenario.
However, a number of more progressive organisations have begun to emerge that adopt a different outlook. These organisations have come to two realisations.
Firstly, they see social media as a great opportunity rather than just a compliance risk and office productivity killer. They can see the value that correctly harnessing the power of social media can create for their business, their customers, and their shareholders. Getting it right has a significant tangible economic impact. It creates profitable opportunities through improved customer communication and service, more inbound customers, being regarded as the place to work which leads to greater unsolicited employee enquiries, and allows the organization to be opportunistic.
These businesses understand that employees can be their most vocal advocates. With each of their 10, 20, 100, or 1000 employees having around 500 friends / family / followers, employees can be an incredibly powerful communications channel for distributing company communications, successes, and values. This communication only works, however, if the employee presents themselves in a way that is aligned to the brand and values of the organisation for which they work for. Each and every day an employee is being viewed online by customers, potential customers, shareholders, colleagues, even journalists. How they present themselves online doesn't just say something about them as an individual, it says something about the organisation for which they work.
The second realisation that progressive firms have come to is that social media didn’t arrive with any instruction manual. As a result, they appreciate that the company needs to play its part in educating and helping their staff to be good corporate citizens online. This means more than just long lists of rules about what they shouldn’t do. It means working with staff to help them understand what is appropriate behaviour and why, but also educating staff about how they can use social media as a powerful tool to help them achieve more in their role, further their career aspirations, and build impressive online personal brands that reflect well on the business. To achieve this, social media training, education, and tools should be integrated into an employee’s corporate journey from their initial induction, through their ongoing education as they rise through the ranks, to being an integral element of the business owner’s development toolkit.
It is impossible to say definitively what the next 3,500 days will hold for social media. It will inevitably morph, change and evolve. However, there is no doubt that those businesses that are going to succeed are those that have institutionalised a strategic approach to social media across the whole organization.