A new multi-dimensional training program for all employees probably won’t excite most budget-conscious executives. One that on first glance focuses employee attention on Facebook and blogs is likely to inspire even less enthusiasm.
How do you get past those initial objections to build support for a social media training effort?
There are three fundamental approaches for gaining buy-in:
• Cite internal research;
Cite internal research
• Appeal to the leader’s interests;
• Demonstrate the risks in not training employees.
You need to undertake some internal research before you develop a plan or propose anything to your organization’s leadership.
Why, then (you may well ask), am I talking about getting buy-in before internal research? Simple: You may need to get buy-in for research itself, so building support for your training effort comes in two phases.
First, get permission to figure out if training is necessary. Once you get the answer (which in almost all cases will support the case for training) you can make a more informed and relevant pitch to build out the training process.
Among the other information you want to glean from your research are answers to these questions:
• How engaged are employees in social media? What channels are they using? What do they use it for? How often?
• Are employees aware of the social media policy? Have they actually read it?
• How often are employees asked something about their employer in their social communities?
• How comfortable are employees in answering these questions
• How inclined are employees to advocate for the company online, from brand ambassadorship to enthusiasm for corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives?
In the case of PepsiCo (a client with whom I helped develop its training program which just won two—count ‘em, two
—international awards for its internal social media training program)—the research proved invaluable.
According to an Information Week story
, “65 percent (of employees surveyed) said that friends and family ask them questions about PepsiCo or its products, and more than half said they would like PepsiCo to provide them with information to share across social media channels.” Yet only about one-third were aware of the company’s existing social media policy.
Numbers like these make it easier to bolster your case for conducting internal training. They also help focus the training on the right kind of material—which is why off-the-shelf employee training just won’t cut it.
Appeal to your leaders’ interests
I am routinely surprised by the small number of communicators I talk to who know their company’s business plan or the goals for which the leadership team must achieve. This information can be vital in making a case for social media training.
In fact, it can be vital in making the case for just about any program you’re working to develop.
Leaders rarely worry about how good the company’s communications are. Their focus is on issues like market share growth, competitive pressures, regulatory compliance, and other issues that can make the average employee’s eyes glaze over.
Eking out growth in an uncertain economy topped a 2011 study of CEO concerns
, followed by preparing for (and reducing) employee defections and getting a stronger focus on the customer. No. 4 on the list, however, was “surrendering to social media.” This was followed by keeping pace with regulations, protecting the company against increased risks, and going global.
If you can demonstrate that informed and trained employees representing the company within their own social communities can positively affect the company’s ability to address these concerns, you’ll build more support for social media.
For example, if a sustainability initiative is important to leadership, inform them that trained employees can help build public support for it. Leaders will understand how training can help meet their objectives and help you focus the training. It not only builds understanding of the policies, but also educates and empowers employees on the ways they can support the effort when talking about the company with the friends and family.
It’s your job to make the business case
for social media training, and nothing makes a business case better than demonstrating how it will help the company’s leaders sleep better at night. That’s also a key to the next point:
Articulate the risk of failing to train employees
The kneejerk reaction of a many executives to the risks associated with social media is to bolt the doors and lock the windows. It’s a bankrupt approach that does nothing to protect the organization. In fact, a policy that prohibits employees from talking about work not only fails, but is also very likely illegal (based on some recent decisions by organizations like the U.S. National Labor Relations Board).
Blocking employee access doesn’t help, either, since most employees have smartphones, tablets, or personal laptops they can use to bypass the company’s networks. And blocking Facebook won’t prevent employees from talking about work with their social communities when they get home.
The best way to mitigate the risks of social media is to make sure employees know their responsibilities and obligations, educate them about the company’s activities, then turn them loose to represent the organization online.
The Altimeter Group’s study on the preparedness of organizations for dealing with social media crises
reinforces this idea. According to the study:
“Advanced companies do not just dictate guidelines about disclosure or confidentiality—they empower employees to use social media professionally. All 18 advanced companies allow rank-and-file employees to participate in social media as a representative of the brand: five after formal approval, seven within pre-defined guidelines, and six actively encourage participation. For example, IBM ‘made a strategic decision to embrace the blogosphere and to encourage IBMers to participate’ back in 2003. Coca-Cola allows employees to represent the brand after completing its Social Media Certification Program.”
Executives will pay even more attention to Altimeter’s finding that companies that train their employees are less likely to experience a costly or reputation-damaging crisis that erupts in the social media space (regardless of whether it had its origins in social media). The study says:
Companies with a social media policy, and program to update and reinforce this policy, mitigate the risks by educating employees in advance, on acceptable and unacceptable behavior in social media. Companies with a policy in place are more likely to have employees who know how to safely represent the brand in social media: 62 percent compared to 23 percent of companies that did not.
The study also points out that 75 percent of the crises companies do experience were avoidable or could have been minimized had employees been trained to avoid saying the wrong thing, but also trained and empowered to support the right
kind of engagement on behalf of the organization.
Presenting your case
Once you have your arguments in hand, you need to present them to leadership in the most compelling way possible.
The best approach is to get in front of the top decision-makers to make a formal presentation, just as a product professional would when seeking support for launching a new product line. Leave a summary of key statistics and arguments as a handout. Be sure to categorize your arguments in the simple terms of “what’s in it for us if we do
train” and “how big the risks are if we don’t
.” Draw particular attention to the ways employees engaged in social media can serve as ambassadors for products, services and CSR (and other) initiatives.
This is the second in a series of posts on social media training for employees. To read part one, visit the blog a shel of my former self. Shel Holtz is principal of Holtz Communication + Technology.