Socializing Your Employees
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Best Buy has their employees engage in Twitter streams. IBM and Intel are encouraging blog participation. Big business is embracing social media in a big way. So what does this mean for you as a small business owner? How can you leverage your best assets–your employees– to spread the word about your brand without damaging the reputation of your business?
Whether you like it or not, your employees are engaged in social media activities tied to your business. If they have a LinkedIn professional profile or include work history on their Facebook page, they’re already representing your business online. While this might be of concern, there are advantages by having more feet on the ground spreading the message of your brand.
For example, your employees can leverage their social graph by Tweeting your blog posts, answer questions related to your business on Quora, or connect to the right decision makers on LinkedIn.
Imagine social media is at a cocktail party and your employees are there with current and prospective clients. What do you want your employees to say, and how can you use this medium to generate more business? Adrian Dayton, a social media consultant from Buffalo, NY, suggests encouraging those employees who are already good networkers to be more active, and emphasize the importance of relevancy. “Make sure your employees post comments people want to read.”
He advises having a transparent discussion with your employees about how everyone should behave online. Develop a working consensus on best practices, including how to act, where your business should participate, and what information should be conveyed back to you. Think of it almost like a storefront; how your employees behave in front of customers should be an example of how they should approach the digital environment.
Jaime Gracia, owner of Seville Government Consulting in Washington, DC, suggests taking it a step further by formalizing your expectations. He says that when an employee is identified as working for your organization it’s important to “set policies on how employees use social media and how they reference their employers on social sites.” You may want to create a best practices guide for your employees to reference.
In taking a look around the web, here are some helpful tips used by the world’s leading brands that can apply to any size business:
* Be a good listener: Don’t sell your product, understand the needs of the community and provide value.
* Respect the opinions of others and engage in a professional manner: Comes down to the golden rule, treat others how you want to be treated.
* When in doubt, do not post: If you have reservations about what you’re writing, hold off and secure approval.
* Be responsive and follow up quickly: Think of social media as real-time conversations, make sure you’re not only proactive, but respond back in a timely manner (within a few hours if possible).
* Admit mistakes and be the first to respond to them: Because the Internet xis permanent, it’s best not to spin information. Admit you’re wrong; the community will respect you for this.
* Always identify who you are and the company you represent: If you’re speaking on behalf of your employer make sure you acknowledge who you are, your role, and what your company does. This helps gain legitimacy in the conversation.
* Stick with your area of expertise and provide a unique individual perspective: Comment only on issues you have the knowledge to speak Remember social media is about people, not companies.
* Give credit where credit is due: Remember to protect confidential and proprietary information. It’s important to cite other sources, but also be cognizant of information that should not be released externally.
Social media can be overwhelming for a small business owner, let alone their employees. Start small by encouraging your employees to tweet or share company blog posts and press releases. Another idea is to have employees connect with each other on social networks such as LinkedIn or Twitter; that way you’re growing your sphere of influence. Set up team discussions related to this topic. Remember, social media shouldn’t just fall to you.
Don’t ask yourself whether it’s wise to have employees use social media, but ask about the risks for not participating. How is your competition taking advantage? What potential customers are you missing? How will potential customers understand what you’re about if they don’t know who’s working for you?
Derek Reese is a social media advocate who works with a variety of businesses on implementing their integrated marketing solutions, as well as consulting on social media best practices.