Before Your Company Starts with Social Media, Read This

More and more companies are exploring channels like Facebook and YouTube to engage consumers. But it can be a fine line between what employees do in their free time and what becomes public in the new world of social media. One forward-thinking step you can take is to create a social media guidelines document. Employees who are already active in social media will appreciate it, and it can be a great introduction for everyone else. And for companies that want employees to participate in corporate social media, this document is essential.

Before you start, get a feel for what other companies are doing. Fortunately, many companies put this information out there to share with the whole world. For starters, take a look at what these companies are doing:

Once you start to get a feel for the type of material that’s out there, it’s time to look at it through the lens of your own corporate culture. For instance, a technology company is starting at a different place than a manufacturer. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, but the examples above should give you a good jumping off point.

Consider involving employees. Once you’ve put together a document, one high-level suggestion for releasing it is to start with a small group of employees. Share it with them and ask for feedback. A good thing to remember is that this is an organic document—social media is always changing, and it’s impossible to anticipate everything that will come up. But by giving employees a voice in the creation of the guidelines themselves, you’re setting a good precedent for the collaboration and sense of community that you can build with social media.

Some companies are putting goals in place for having x number of employees comfortable engaging directly with consumers through social media, or even encouraging employees to go out and blog on their own in their free time. And once employees are on-board, the sky is the limit in terms of what you can achieve.

Should Companies Ban Social Media at Work?

It’s an odd question, really, when you consider how many companies are shifting some of their advertising dollars to social media. Even when it makes good business sense from a sales perspective, sometimes leadership doesn’t see it that way for employees. In fact, what other new business tactic can you think of that companies don’t want employees to participate in?

I came across this article from Sharon Gaudin with some interesting stats on social media and productivity:

According to a study commissioned by Robert Half Technology, an IT staffing firm, 54% of U.S. companies say that they have banned workers from using social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace while on the job. The study also found that 19% of companies allow social networking use only for business purposes, while 16% allow limited personal use.

Only 10% of the 1,400 CIOs interviewed said that their companies allow employees full access to social networks during work hours.

So what message does that send to employees? Well, it’s a trust issue. And the message is pretty clear: we don’t trust you. But are employees truly blocked from social media? Hardly, at least if you have a smart phone. So while a company may block social media, half the people may have access social networks anyway through their iPhone or BlackBerry.

It becomes a matter of how employees use these tools. While there are plenty of legitimate business reasons for participating in social media, the perception is still that social media is just games or personal interest. Overcoming this barrier is the turning point for many companies. As Alan Richardson pointed out on our LinkedIn discussion group, companies trust employees with corporate credit cards. So why not social media?

But isn’t there a business case to be made for banning social media? Of course. But the reality is that no employee is 100% productive all of the time (Take it from the episode of The Office where Dwight says he isn’t wasting any company time, so Michael follows him around with a stopwatch).  The truth of the matter is that even if employees aren’t “wasting time” looking at Facebook, they are probably “wasting time” in other ways (And a side note, I think there’s tons of productivity and valuable knowledge sharing out there in social media). A coworker told me that she knows someone who works in an office where they have to grab an IT person to get access to the website. No web browsing in that place. So what’s an employee to do when he or she needs to rest their brain for a second? “I just stare at the wall,” said the employee.

Is staring at a wall more productive than social media? I’d like to think not. LinkedIn is an incredible networking tool, and Twitter allows people to follow thought leaders in nearly every industry imaginable. Social networking has proven itself to work when it comes to engaging people, and companies that leverage that knowledge—even, and perhaps especially, if done internally—will see results in the future.

But all this thinking has tired me out. I guess I’ll just stare at the wall for a minute and relax.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

The Power of Reflection

It’s amazing what you can get done getting still. Most small business owners, myself included, spend most of their days moving as fast as possible, getting things done, checking things off the list. But the most important work happens faster when we stop.

Once a year, my business partner and I go to Arizona for several days to think about the business. We take a thick workbook filled with questions about every aspect of the business, from our business development strategy, to how we define our company brand, to how we think each employee is doing.

For the first few days, it may look like we’re not doing much that’s productive. We go on hikes, have massages, take yoga classes, take naps. This year, Arizona had an unexpected cold snap and we spent a lot of time in our rooms sitting by the fire.

Then, ideas begin to surface. New-found clarity pulls everything into focus. Suddenly, we see business opportunities that we hadn’t noticed before. We notice things we need to change that we’d been moving too fast to see.

These annual trips are where we set our vision for the company. There are all sorts of important milestones in our company’s growth that can be traced back to an idea we had during Shiatsu or sitting by the pool on our Arizona retreats. If we hadn’t done these trips consistently through the years, there are plenty of times we would have veered off course and not caught it.

The trick is taking the time, even when you think you don’t have it. Or when you think the company can’t afford for you to spend money going away somewhere to loll around.

Our trips are definitely expensive, but I’d say they’re one of the most important items in our annual budget. My business partner and I were talking yesterday, after our most recent Arizona trip, about how we could have spent that same amount of money on an executive coach for the year, or joining a CEO roundtable group, or any other sort of professional development that most business people would find a reasonable investment.

But for my money, the best bet is giving yourself a chance to sit still until you begin to see where you need to go next.

Take a Look at These 3 CEO Blogs

There’s so much talk out there right now about CEOs who are blogging, but there’s still a lot of mystery about who exactly these CEOs are. Obviously, a number of CEO bloggers do so behind a firewall, but here are three public examples of CEOs who are blogging—and doing it well, at that. (They aren’t in any particular order.)

Marriot CEO Bill Marriot — http://www.blogs.marriott.com/ 

Bill Marriot’s blog started in 2007, and has grown into a great high-level business blog. The blog itself is simple in appearance, but it comes across as clear.

What does Bill Marriot say about the blog? “I’d rather engage directly in dialogue with you because that’s how we learn and grow as a company. So tell me what you think, and together we’ll keep Marriott on the Move!”

For other CEOs looking to blog, Marriott gives two pieces of advice:

  • Make it personal
  • Stay away from out and out advertising

Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons — http://www.bobparsons.me/index.php Love him or hate him, Go Daddy CEO Bob Parsons has staying power. He started blogging in 2004, and in 2008 he turned the blog into a bi-monthy vlog. Don’t doubt Parsons’ success: His vlogs attract 75,000 viewers, with an average of over 200 comments per episode.

Why does Parsons take the time to blog? “The main goal is for me to have an avenue to discuss some of the important issues that will impact how the Internet is run, by whom and under whose control.”

GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz — http://fastlane.gmblogs.com/
Bob Lutz jumped in to the blogging game in 2006, so there’s a ton of material showing him discuss GM’s very public financial problems. (If you want to see an executive deliver a tough message, this is the spot.) The blog does a good job of incorporating some multimedia elements, and also showcases other people in the business – it’s a blog for GM executives to talk about GM’s current and future products and services.

Giving leadership a voice. The Fast Lane blogs creates a very friendly atmosphere by pulling leaders from across the business to write posts. Also take a look at some of the other blogs GM is doing for a bigger picture look at GM’s blogging.

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There are many ways to pull off a successful CEO blog, but these just happen to be three very visible examples, and the material isn’t too technical for the average person to understand. For more on leadership blogging, see Blogging is Serious Business for Leadership.

Twitter and LinkedIn: A Match Made in Heaven?

I was recently browsing through Scott Monty’s blog, the head of social media at Ford. His post about the new features that allow you to update LinkedIn via Twitter, and vice versa got me thinking. How long can the different social networks remain separate? People like things streamlined, and they don’t want to dig around a bunch of different places searching for what they need (especially in a business setting). It’s only a matter of time before someone develops a site where you can quickly and easily scan all of your favorite social networking sites at once.

Here in our office, we’ve discussed how younger people open themselves up to the world more than Gen X and Boomers. Kids today are comfortable sharing their Facebook self with friends and relatives alike. There’s no separation between the work/school version of themselves, the family version and the friend version.

But how will that sit with your employees? Employees are more accessible than they’ve ever been in the past. As smart phones get smarter (and cheaper), it’s not a stretch to think that tomorrow’s employee will have a mini-office in their pockets at all times, with everything they need to access their email, open and edit a file and share it with a client.

It all comes back around to the blending of business and pleasure when linking Twitter to LinkedIn. So how will this impact employee engagement? An employee who happily reads over a work email or sends a few quick thoughts to a coworker on the fly and outside of work is the holy grail of engaged employees. But that might just be business as usual when Gen Z starts to enter the workforce.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Do you Treat Your Clients Like Tiffany Customers?

No matter how good your company is, sooner or later you’re going to mess something up. You won’t mean to, but you’ll do something that upsets a client. Maybe you’ll miss a deadline, maybe costs will come in higher than you estimated, maybe one of your employees will unintentionally offend a client with a stupid joke. The question is not whether or not something will go wrong in a client relationship. Something always goes wrong.

The real question is: what do you DO when something goes wrong? A trusted business advisor once told me that it’s always a good strategy to overreact to a mistake. Don’t assume that just because the client says it’s no big deal that it’s no big deal.

Here’s a great example of the right sort of overreaction from the little blue box of high-end retail: Tiffany. A friend’s husband ordered her a necklace from the Tiffany website as a Christmas present. He selected a shipping method that would get it there by Christmas Eve. For reasons that may or may not have been Tiffany’s fault, the necklace didn’t arrive on time. They assured him it would arrive the following week.

But in the meantime, they overnighted — for Saturday delivery, no less — a complimentary gift card for $100. I don’t care who you are, a hundred dollars for free makes an impact. It’s a heck of an apology. My friend says she’d never really been a big fan of Tiffany before, but now she’s a true believer. Her husband, who had planned to have another jeweler knock off a celebration ring Tiffany makes to save a little money, now feels it’s imperative that he buy that ring from Tiffany, regardless of cost. His takeaway: “I know Tiffany will do it right.”

Of course, the reverse happens often enough. There’s a dime store in Atlanta that has been here for about three generations. It’s a well-loved institution. They’ve built their reputation one happy customer at a time, year after year after year. It’s the kind of place where parents take their kids for a ride on the same mechanical horse they rode as children. A ride on the horse still costs a dime.

One day I watched a cashier eradicate all those decades of goodwill, at least for the one customer she was serving. This guy handed her a clapping monkey he wanted to buy. You know the one, with the striped trousers and the brass cymbals. The price tag on the monkey said one price. The register rang it up at a higher price. The customer said he wanted to pay the price on the price tag. The cashier said, well, I can’t sell it to you for that, because the register says it’s supposed to cost such and such. They went around and around and around until finally the customer said, you know, I’ve been shopping here for years, but now I’m not coming back again. What’s more, he promised to tell all his friends what happened with the clapping monkey. And he walked out — monkeyless and not happy about it.

Wouldn’t it have been worth the few bucks difference in price to keep a long-time customer happy? I like to think that if the owner had been there, he would have apologized profusely to the customer. And then given him the clapping monkey for free.

Initial Results for Wellness Survey: It’s Worth It to Work Wellness into Your Bottom Line

Initial results are starting to come in from our survey about workplace wellness programs and their impact on employee engagement. Participants are still responding, but here are some numbers that caught my eye right off the bat:

94 percent of respondents say they either strongly agree or agree that they work better together when they spend time interacting with each other about things aside from work.

81 percent say they’d be interested in a company-supported wellness contest or collaborative program. For example, a wellness competition to see who can eat 5 vegetables and fruits a day for the most days, or a program in which employees collectively walk 10,000 miles to raise money for a charity.

What does this tell us? Some employers might worry that if they give employees time to work out during the day that productivity would suffer. It’s actually the opposite. The more employees interact with each other, the better. When employees are able to put aside differences and focus on getting the work done, everyone wins – including employers. Plus, exercise helps you clear your mind. You’ve returned from the treadmill with a fresh attitude, haven’t you?

Companies have been justifiably preoccupied with the bottom line this last year, but it’s not just the numbers that impact profitability and growth. How well employees work together is paramount to overcoming barriers like a recession. It takes a diverse set of talents to think of global innovative solutions; it takes a village.

So, can’t you just take them out for a drink? Sure, but that doesn’t do much for overall morale in your company. Engaging employees in taking responsibility for their health in a supportive environment is a wonderful way to engage them with each other and your brand, to boot.

With all of the news on health care in the US, the issues with obesity and the costs of providing health care to your workforce, starting a wellness program in your office is simply good business. And, it doesn’t have to cost a fortune. But it is important that leadership backs it up, and ideal if they’re involved.

Where do wellness and social media intersect? I’ve noticed that many companies use social media and also have some sort of health benefit. But there’s not a lot of intersection of the two in practice. Merging a brand’s wellness efforts and social media tools is like engagement on rocket fuel. You’re creating a group of healthy employees who are engaged and invested in each other and your company.

If you’ve started a foray into either area (health or employee engagment), and it hasn’t been going well, try leveraging one to do the other.

If you’d like to contribute your thoughts, please go to: http://www.zoomerang.com/Survey/?p=WEB22A4FBAHST6.

Elizabeth Cogswell Baskin

Checklist: 7 Quick Ways to Promote Your Blog after Every Post

If a tree falls in the blogosphere, is anyone there to hear it? Unless you already have all the readers you want for your blog, you’re going to want to promote your new posts. One of the best ways is to develop a standard system of the things you do each time you publish something new.

Here’s a handy checklist of the steps I take:

1. Ping it: Ping-o-matic is a free service that updates search engines so you don’t have to. Visit pingomatic.com, and go ahead and bookmark it. Then every time you post something new, just click on that, and it will do the pinging for you.

2. Tiny it: Next thing I do is make a shortened version of the URL for the blog page where my new post appears. I  use bit.ly, but there are plenty of other options.

3. Tweet it: Then I send out one tweet to let my followers know there’s some new content they might be interested in. Some people like to do several tweets about one post, or even many tweets a day promoting an inventory of past posts. In the tweet, I’ll include the shortened URL to take them straight to the post. (If you use WordPress, you can also set it to auto-tweet your new posts.)

4. Digg it: To use this content sharing service, you’ll first need to register at digg.com. Then every time you post, you can go to their Add New Content page and submit your post. Check the box for news article if it’s a text post and the video box for a vlog, of course. You also might want to poke around Digg to see what other people have posted and give the ones you like a thumbs up, just for good karma.

5. Stumble it: Stumble Upon leads visitors directly to websites that match their interests, out of a list of nearly 500 possible topics. So it helps more like-minded people discover your blog. Again, you’ll need to first register as a member and download the toolbar into your browser. Then you can give your blog posts a thumbs up and submit them for other people to find.

6. Contribute it: You might find a few websites out there that allow you to post content, usually as an article or a blog. These will generally be sites that focus on a specific audience, like working mothers or budding entrepreneurs. Depending on the topic of each of my posts, I may or may not contribute it as content somewhere. When you do contribute content, you generally are allowed to tag the post with a brief description of who you are and what you write about, along with a link back to your own blog site.

7. Link it: This last one is so easy, you only have to set it up one time and then your blog becomes part of your LinkedIn account. Install the free BlogLink application and then it will automatically add your new posts to your profile page, and also let your contacts know every time you post something new.

Gen Z: The Cell Phone Generation

I recently read about a survey that found cell phones are indispensable to teens. Teens (and even younger kids) see their cell phones as a crucial part of their identities. In fact, my own son has a cell phone. He’s just seven years old, but won’t hesitate to call me asking where the remote is.

The wireless trade association CTIA and Harris Interactive surveyed 2,000 teens across the US and found that about four out of every five teens carry a cell phone (up from 40 percent of teens owning a cell phone in 2004). These aren’t just older teens—nearly half of kids 8-12 own cell phones in the US, according to a Neilson report.

Engagement will be key among this younger demographic, whether you’re looking at it through the lens of future employee or future customer. And the tool for that engagement can be as simple as a cell phone. So for communicators who think we can just bypass the whole social media fad, tomorrow’s employee will be so integrated with collaborative technologies, they’ll expect to see those same tools in the workplace. And most likely, they’ll access those tools on the fly from wherever they happen to be.

Web-based communications are increasingly becoming as important as face-to-face. A recent article in The New York Times suggests that today’s kids are so comfortable with virtual socialization that they see less of a distinction between a night spent socializing with virtual friends and a Friday night party.

The funny thing is, when you ask a child what social media is, they don’t have a clue. But give them an iPhone, and they’ll be downloading apps in no time. Or ask them to bring you their favorite book, and they’ll hand you a Kindle.

Communications are rapidly changing, but many companies seem stuck in their old ways. And a company that’s not innovative can quickly be replaced by one that is.