Shawndra Russell is a writer and social media educator for businesses, professionals and college students with the intent of stopping outdated me! me! me! marketing. This post originally appeared on the 15five blog.
We exist in two different worlds, the virtual and the real. Some of us spend more time on our social networks than in the physical realm. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and others have changed the way we live and work forever. Just ask your IT department how much time employees spend liking and tweeting the day away.
But worry not business leaders, because there is a way that you can use this compulsive behavior to your advantage.
Your company story
As Gary Vaynerchuck shares in his book The Thank You Economy—which aims to define the impact of social media on our lives and behavior—this radical shift in our economy “requires that business leaders start thinking like small-town shop owners.” Why? Because social media takes word of mouth marketing to a bigger stage.
If you provided poor customer service in your small town back when Main Streets ruled, you risked losing many of your other local customers. Now, social media allows all complaints (and praise!) to be shared quickly and easily, and it all can be read by thousands, if not millions, depending on the size and nature of your company. So what does all this mean for your business?
The enormous popularity of social media shows that humans want to connect, communicate, and see behind closed doors. Human nature boils down to four needs—the need to acquire, bond, learn and defend.
Potential customers don’t want to see the perfectly crafted image that you’ve created on your billboards, print ads, or TV commercials; instead, they want to meet their basic human needs and hear from real customers and real employees about what your company is like.
What are your values? What kind of customer service do you provide online and off? Is it a good place to work? Do you care about your people?
These and other questions can now be easily gathered from what others are saying about your company on social media and review sites, and you need to be actively engaging with the people who are talking about your company to help shape the story.
The most underserved audience for most companies isn’t their customers; it’s their employees, and social media can aid in fixing that issue. Hopefully you already have a strong company culture, where your employees feel valued, heard and appreciated internally, and social media can help you amplify that appreciation.
You can also craft employee guidelines (and incentives!) for your employees so they will be more involved in your social media program.
Yet before getting your employees involved, you have to ask yourself: how loyal are they? What would they say about your company if they thought their feedback would remain anonymous? Is your company ready to harness the influence of your employees’ personal social media networks and empower them to be part of your company’s social media program?
Once you feel good about the answers to these questions, here are some ideas for ways to utilize the power of your employees’ personal social networks and behavior into assets for your company.
1. Employee of the Month
Sure, it’s great to praise the employee of the month internally, but imagine the benefits of an employee of the month program amplified by announcing it loud and proud on social media? This external recognition can be a motivator for those who thrive on praise, and it shows your customers that you care about your employees.
2. Social employee of the month
Gamification is a natural motivator—develop a plan to reward an employee that positively interacts with your company’s social activities. Make the prizes something thoughtful and personalized to net even greater results.
Track your employees’ social media messages that relate to work, like sharing articles that show thought leadership, responding to customer messages, even just checking in to your workplace on Foursquare. It’s all positive chatter because it increases the visibility of your company online.
3. Q&A Twitter chat with the CEO/owner
Monthly, 1-hour tweet chats are a great way to show your willingness to connect one-on-one with both employees and customers. Have a list of questions (10 is typical for a tweetchat) and be prepared to ask them if questions aren’t pouring in during the designated time.
However, be warned that if customers are unhappy with your company, you might be fielding some tough questions, which was the case with JPMorgan when they tried to host a Twitter chat in light of multiple federal investigations.
4. Offer continuous training
Before involving your employees in your social media program, it’s a good idea to hold a social media workshop to get everyone on the same page. Even if employees are active personally on social media, there will need to be some guidelines shared and an emphasis on a professional persona online.
Provide an overview of the platforms you’d like them to engage with and follow-up with periodic training on particular platforms, new networks, and/or sharing results of the previous month to make them feel like all those tweets and status updates actually mattered—which will in turn motivate them to participate even more.
Your employees may be on social media all day, but they are just fulfilling a basic human need to bond with others. You can fulfill other needs by listening, showing them appreciation, and guiding them to do their best work. They will then naturally want to share your company’s products, services, and outstanding culture with their virtual worlds.