Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 14, 200912:46 PM

Social Media And The Gentle Art Of Management

If there is one question that circulates around boardrooms, organizations and enterprises, it is: how do we manage Social Media from a management perspective?

Here are 6 ways for management to manage Social Media:

  1. Acceptance - Social Media is not a fad. The ability for people to share stories is as old as fire and cave walls. Mass media disrupted this type of conversation and now, technology not only enables it once again, but it also facilitates it. To think Blogging, wikis, Twitter or online social networks will disappear as quickly as they arrived is simple naivety. Management needs to accept and understand that their employees and consumers are connected, using these channels, sharing information and telling stories in both channels and platforms that are not only shared by over a billion people, but that are searchable and findable by anyone and everyone. It also means that your company must stop blocking access to these channels and platforms. Thinking that everybody is wasting their time on Facebook and YouTube and not getting their work done, is not the reason the work is not being done. If you've blocked them out of these tools, trust me, they're finding alternative ways to waste time.
  2. Openness - Once there is acceptance, the only way to truly embrace these Social Media channels and move on is to declare a new state of transparency and openness within your organization (for more on this, please read the excellent business book, Tactical Transparency by Shel Holtz and John C. Havens). This doesn't mean that you have to share corporate strategies or give everything you produce away for free. It means that you are going to embrace the notion of changing the way you communicate from a "one voice to customers" model to a "many human voices to many human beings" model. This does mean that you will empower employees - in conjunction with your Marketing, Communications, Legal and Human Resources departments - to act as both advocates and brand evangelists for the brand. It also means that you are going to not only listen to what your consumers are saying, but that you are going to respond and improve your products and services based on what makes the most sense... and you're going to do it faster and better than you have ever done before.
  3. Policy and guidelines - One of the major reasons most companies get scared off of Social Media is because they feel that they will "lose control" of their messaging and brand. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brands still (and always will) control the product, pricing, advertising, customer care, etc... and consumers will always control whether or not the buy from you and whether or not they tell everyone they know about how great (or bad) you are to them. Having a clear policy (though, I do prefer guidelines over a formal policy) will help everyone - internally - understand what these channels are, why they are important, how to communicate and connect in them and what the company expects in terms of disclosure and "voice". It also helps employees understand what they can and can't say about their work (for more information on creating Social Media policies and guidelines, please check out this Blog post: Does Your Company Need A Social Media Policy?).
  4. Monitor - Tools like Google Alerts, Twitter Search, Technorati and even targeted searches on the generic search engines (Google, Bing, Yahoo) offer tremendous insights into what is being said about your brand. Make sure you are listening to the many voices. Follow the keywords/terms that are specific to your business including key employees, competitors and even the more generic industry terms. By monitoring what is being said you not only get smarter about your industry, but you will be better able to manage internal expectations as you'll be more informed about who is using these tools to communicate and connect, and what they are saying.
  5. Lead by example - Another way to manage Social Media is to not sit back and wait for employees and customers to use it before reacting to it, but rather to be proactive. Take the lead and lead by example. Develop a strong Social Media strategy that ties into your business (and sales) objectives. Tie that strategy directly into the overall ROI of the enterprise. Once you have defined the Social Media strategy, define the tactics and the key players within the organization and define budgets, timelines, teams and milestones. Hold yourself (and the company) responsible. Understand that it is going to take time to build community, and recognize that it is going to take a healthy dose of both relevancy and consistency to really break through and become some kind of  recognized authority within the greater community you serve.
  6. Start on the inside - The gut instinct it to jump on to  Twitter, Facebook or YouTube and start posting. One of the easiest ways to manage Social Media is to try it out internally first. What does that look like? Put your documents into a company wiki and ask for feedback/edits. Start an internal Blog to share news, information and other Social Media stuff that people on the inside should know. Take an audio recorder, interview the CEO and launch it as an internal Podcast. The list, opportunities and options are endless. What winds up happening is a "softening effect" - your employees get comfortable with these channel and platforms, they seem less scary and more manageable and suddenly, the enterprise starts benefitting from all of this sharing and collaboration.

What is your advice to management about how they can best use Social Media to build business?

Sidebar: On Friday, October 16th, 2009 I will be speaking in Toronto at an event titled, The Art of Management. This full-day event will also feature best-selling business book author Tom Peters (In Search of Excellence, Re-Imagine!, etc...), Marcus Buckingham and the Getting Things Done guru, David Allen. all live and in-person. There is special pricing for this event if you mention this Blog or my name. You can get more information here: The Art of Management (I hope to see you there).

By Mitch Joel