Benefits Canada chatted with Amber MacArthur—a consultant, television host and journalist specializing in technology and social media—about how employers can make the most of social media.
1. How is social media changing the way businesses work?
First of all, businesses are being forced to learn how to use social media to communicate internally with employees. Especially if they’re recruiting—we all know the younger generation wants to use these tools within the company. Second, businesses are being forced to learn how to use social media to communicate with the outside world: to put a public face forward and to build their reputation online.
2. How is gen Y affecting the work environment?
These individuals are coming into the work environment, and they’re so used to using different digital tools to communicate within their own world that their expectation is that you should be able to communicate the same way within a business. However, very often, they are let down because many companies have not adopted new technologies. What’s happening is that either generation Y is disappointed with how companies are slow to adopt these new technologies and seek work elsewhere or these employees just may not be content with the way communications are happening internally.
3. How can social media help communicate with employees around pensions and benefits?
There are different types of tools that can be used. One of the most successful can be setting up an internal blog that is a place of education. The most important thing, when you are creating a blog internally, is to make sure that the content is compelling, using things like lists and how-to content so people want to come back for more.
If you can produce any type of video content—short snippets, 60 seconds or less—that can be a great way to communicate something within a benefits or pension plan to employees. Video is a really powerful medium.
4. What about using humour in your employee communications?
I think humour scares a lot of businesses, especially if they have something serious to communicate. They don’t want to use humour because they feel it’s not appropriate, but the reality is that humour can be a fantastic way to get people interested in the content.
The most important thing is to look at other companies that have used humour in the past to communicate. I always use the example of Charmin toilet paper and how it came up with its toilet finder app. Basically, it was promoting the brand and, at the same time, allowing people to find clean restrooms in their cities.
It’s about coming up with clever and creative ideas that are untraditional. And the best way you can come up with these is by having it be a team effort: getting a small group together and brainstorming. It can’t be a one-person task.
5. What are the barriers to incorporating social media into a company’s overall strategy?
There are so many different tools—and often, the tools that are right for some organizations may not be right for other organizations, especially when it comes to privacy and confidentiality. The biggest barrier is getting someone on board who can figure out what tools make the most sense for what you’re trying to achieve. And they’re not going to be the same for every business: what may work for one company is not going to work for another.
The second would be time. People are stressed in their jobs, and they feel like they don’t have time to develop a social media strategy. It’s about finding that time and making it a priority, because social media can fall by the wayside.
6. What are the main steps in developing a strategy?
The first and most important is to create a social media policy—you want to do that upfront. That means having rules of engagement and guidelines for social media usage within your organization.
The second would be to create a social media plan. That should be a long-term plan that has goals, strategies as far as the different ideas you’re going to execute on and also ways to measure your success.
The third is developing a social media task force or a team of people to execute that plan, to support that plan. And that needs to include executive buy-in.
7. Do you need dedicated resources?
Often, social media can fall to the communications team. However, if you don’t have the right person on the team who really understands and is excited about using these different tools, it’s going to fall flat.
If you can afford to have a dedicated person, I think that can be a real asset. If you can’t, it’s important to find a person in the communications department who embraces these tools and loves to innovate, and gets excited about using this new technology. It is about having the right leaders.
8. If you want to start small, what’s the best way to begin?
One of the first things you want to do is get up to date on what’s happening today in social media and all of the different tools and best practices. I always recommend Mashable.com as one of the top social media sites. It’s a news site that aggregates social media content, so that can be good daily reading to immerse yourself in the space and to figure out what to do.
Once you do that, figuring out the right tool and dipping your big toe in it can be a really good idea…and maybe that’s blogging, maybe that’s Twitter. It really depends on what you’re trying to achieve. Try one tool and commit to that tool for a longer term so it’s not just a week-long thing but instead maybe a six-month practice.
9. Employers may be afraid to use social media in a business context, fearing loss of control or privacy issues. How would you respond?
The good news today is, with a lot of tools, you’re able to control and maintain privacy within these networks. I think we’ve never been in a better time, as far as tools, to really respect people’s privacy.
On the flip side, the reality is, anything anyone posts online can be copied and pasted. So you still have to have those policies in place to make sure people are using the tools properly.
Honestly, it comes down to education—not just of the communications team that is developing the actual social media plan but of the entire company—and getting the company on board and getting ideas. Getting all employees to be part of the process so that everybody understands what the guidelines are and perhaps has even helped to develop them.
10. What should an employer do if it finds itself at the centre of a social media storm?
With social media, things become viral very quickly. We’ve seen companies make many mistakes and be at the wrong end of the social media spectrum, as far as getting negative attention. The most important thing you can do is have a listening or a monitoring plan in place. That means, you really need to monitor these channels on a regular basis—for some companies, that means 24/7 or at least seven days a week. Things can erupt in the social media space over the weekend, so if you have a huge company—let’s say you’re a big bank, for example—you should have someone keeping an eye on what happens.
My second tip would be to take the conversation off-line. As soon as you see something start to erupt, the first thing you want to do is contact [those who started the discussion] and say, ‘We respect your feelings. We want to talk about this.’ Then ask them to email a private email or call a number, getting the conversation out of the social space so you decrease the potential damage.
The third thing you should do is be ready to issue a formal statement. That could be in video format: we saw that with Domino’s pizza a few years ago, when there were those employees in the States who had done some pretty gross things to pizzas. The first thing Domino’s did was get the CEO to do a 60-second video with his statement. You saw the rise in negative conversations about Domino’s, but the video helped decrease that because they had presented their stance early on. Timing is everything.
11. What future technology trends are you anticipating?
For employers, the one that becomes the most interesting is gamification—the concept that you can turn what used to be mundane tasks within your business, whatever they might be, into games where you get people engaged and having fun. We forget that, so often, you can add a gaming layer to any process and make it more enjoyable for users.
Alyssa Hodder | July 27, 2012