Category Archives: Communication Trends

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.

LEADERSHIP: 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.

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.

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.

5 Trends in Social Media You Can’t Miss

There’s no shortage of social media statistics out there, but they don’t have a very long shelf life. Here are five trends going on right now that you should know about.

  1. 86% of companies plan to spend more money on social media in 2010, while 13% are planning to keep the same level of budget, according to The Social Media and Online PR Report, published by Econsultancy in association with bigmouthmedia. Social media is becoming increasingly important across the business, from hiring to marketing. So which of those groups do you think will have the upper hand a year from now, those who are spending or those who aren’t? Here are a few more findings from the report:
    1. 54% of companies say that the biggest barrier to better social media engagement is a lack of resources.
    2. Only 10% of companies are not engaging in any social media activity whatsoever.
    3. Benefits of social media include increased brand awareness (73%), increased customer engagement (71%), better brand reputation (66%), and increased communication with key influencers (62%).
  2. Social networks drive brand participation among women. According to the SheSpeaks “Annual Social Media Study,” social networking usage climbed from 58% of Internet users in 2008 to 86% in 2009. 80% of female Internet users said they had become a fan of a product or brand on a social network, and 72% had learned about a new product or brand, or joined a group around one. Many companies are successfully engaging the powerful demographic of women consumers, and the web is “swallowing up” print and television as we speak. And unlike print or television, computer users are just one click away from doing whatever you want them to do.
  3. 75% of Japanese social networking is mobile-only, according to a survey conducted last year in Japan by Mobile Marketing Data Labo. And consider this trend among American teenagers: About 4 out of every 5 teens carry a cell phone. The connection here is that people around the world are becoming increasingly dependent on cell phones, and phones themselves are getting more and more advanced. It’s not unrealistic to think that today’s “smartest” smart phone will be a piece of junk compared to the most basic models available a few years down the road, at a fraction of the cost. Brands are already using cell phone marketing to consumers, so it’s only a matter of time before your work cell phone gives you all of the tools you need to do your job (and much more).
  4. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of companies reported responding to tweets, again according to Econsultancy and bigmouthmedia. Businesses that are engaging consumers are turning negative experiences into positive ones, and keeping customers they may have otherwise lost. Social media can bring a concierge-level of service to consumers, and people have shown a willingness to share positive experiences they’ve had with a brand online.
  5. Years to reach 50 millions users: Radio, 38 years; TV, 13 years; Internet, 4 years; iPod, 3 years. Facebook added 100 million users in less than nine months; iPhone applications hit 1 billion in nine months. Okay, maybe disregard the last stat, because it doesn’t count unique visitors (although it’s still interesting). What’s interesting here is that even a 9-year old can post a video on YouTube to a global audience of hundreds of millions of people.

How long these trends last remains to be seen, but social media is opening the doors to engaging consumers and employees in new ways, and the possibilities are endless.

Employee morale: How are you trending compared to national news?

For the first time in a long time, I read my New York Times yesterday with enthusiasm and relish – and finished with a light heart. It’s the one printed paper I can’t seem to give up. Yes, there’s still much ink related to last year’s debacle on Wall Street and slide into a recession, but I enjoyed what had been missing for me for quite a while: some positive articles about business. The stories left me with hope for the future. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel (even while recognizing that we’re still in a tunnel).

A sampling of stories:

For instance, the lead business story was on Ford’s gamble that consumers around the world are more alike than different. That’s a topic I can warm up to. The new Ford Focus, which is built on a singular global platform, is the first evidence of this theory, and only time will tell. But what’s important to me is that this article was about the future and not the past. It acknowledged the company’s dark days, but it really told the story of Ford’s bid to emerge from the recession as more powerful, streamlined and profitable. It also touched on culture and leadership. A leader who hugs? OK, that’s over the top for some, but nice to hear about all the same after months and months of dissecting “big fat-cats” (other people’s words, not mine).

Another article talked about how some schools are considering a new approach to teaching innovation and critical thinking. And, the lead story of Sunday Styles was a story on White House Director of the Office of Management and Budget Peter Orszag – a love story, I might add. It seems positive when you’re talking about this gentleman’s love life rather than his job (right?).

Your take on tone

I know that all of you will read whatever news sources you like to read and come to your own conclusions. But, what I’m interested in more than the source for the purpose of this post is whether you feel better or worse when you’re done.

Place your company in context

After you can articulate how the news makes you feel, think about how your company is positioning itself in the new year. If you’re in a leadership position at your company, then employees are waiting for you to signal how they should feel about the future. This year could bring some of the best news that employees have heard in months or years.

Hopefully, they won’t read about it in the paper first.

LEADERSHIP: You can’t have success without innovation—and failure

I recently spoke with Karl Roche at IBM about social media and internal communications. Here are a few thoughts that emerged from our discussion.

  1. Social media is about letting employees consume information in the way they want. There’s not one tool that will work for every employee, and not everyone has to be using a tool for it to be successful. Different groups within a business will have different needs, so listen to employees, and then offer them tools that provide a solution. It all comes down to enabling employees and making it easy for them to get the information they want on their terms.
  2. You can’t have success without innovation—and failure. If someone is having a problem, chances are other employees are too. Encourage employees to speak out on ways to improve efficiency. By giving employees a channel to voice their suggestions, you’re bound to get valuable feedback from the people who know your company’s processes best. A culture of innovation leads to success, and failure is an inevitable part of that cycle. Embrace it, and start moving forward.
  3. Employees trust information from colleagues more than via other sources. Employees place a lot of value on what they hear from coworkers. Creating an environment conducive to knowledge sharing not only builds morale, it’s transparent and trustworthy in the eyes of employees. Empowering employees and giving them the right tools is the first step towards creating this type of work environment.

Companies that are investing time and energy in their employees are growing the business and creating an employer-of-choice atmosphere. As the recession ends and businesses begin hiring again, companies who are seen investing in employees during the down times will be the most attractive to top talent down the road.

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You can also follow Karl on Twitter

Dialing Down Social Media

I recently had a chance to speak with Alan Richardson, a Digital Communication consultant with Ibis Communications who I was able to connect with through our LinkedIn group for social media for internal communications. Here are a few takeaways from our conversation:

  1. Sometimes you have to dial down the social media language. It’s a funny thing that when you suggest a new strategy for engaging employees, improving collaboration and facilitating knowledge-sharing in an organization, people are often quick to jump onboard. But mentioning “social media” can be an instant turnoff for some in leadership who immediately think, “Social media is just Facebook, and that’s not productive for our organization.” Although there are some people who will get it, for others, it may be better to shape the argument in a different way. Start with the business benefits, and from there lay out the tools. Instead of using the term “social media,” you may want to use other language, like collaborative technologies.
  2. Just like with any other channel, social media participants will fall back on familiar structures. One of the beautiful things about social media is the way it enables conversations to flow freely from top to bottom, bottom to top and side-to-side. Gen Y often sees social media as a way to level the playing field and have their voice heard, but once the system is in place, you’ll often find that communications revert to a typical hierarchy where leaders emerge from the group.
  3. Audio is an undervalued resource. Alan recently wrote a blog on this topic, which I’d recommend for more information. Online gamers have embraced audio more than any other group, mainly because it’s easy and convenient. There are a number of technologies out there (often inexpensive) that allow people to sign in and join the conversation. It can be very empowering to employees to know that they can passively “listen in” on a conversation, but also ask questions to the group. Simply put, chatting builds a sense of community, and that can be invaluable to an organization with employees spread out over multiple locations. (Just be sure not to mention social media and gaming when you pitch this idea to management.)

Leadership: Nobody Wants to Talk About Tampons

I came across this case study, and it’s too good not to share. Except that it is about tampons, and that’s sort of a taboo subject, even for consumers of the product.

This Procter and Gamble case study is a little different from other case studies that I usually blog about because this example of social media is external-facing. But, I’m going to argue that engaged workforces think up the best ideas for engaging consumers.

And P&G is consistently voted one of the best places to work for. They engage employees in many different ways, including a profit-sharing plan, which is the oldest such plan in the country (122 years). Profit-sharing, by the way, is a re-emerging trend for creating employee ownership – financially and mentally.

Another interesting note (and you might know a P&G fanatic yourself), I actually have a business colleague who is a shareholder and very vocal advocate for the P&G brand as a whole. He keeps a list of the company’s brands in his wallet so he can refer to it when shopping. He’s fond of pointing out to people when a P&G brand is an option.

It’s all about them
Considering P&G spends billions of dollars on advertising, it’s a bit surprising that they were slow-adapters to social media. Maybe that’s because they were spending all their time focusing on people, and knew their people would eventually do the right thing.

But, anyway, they realized that the mind of the consumer is wired differently than from even five years (or one year) ago. Consumers don’t want to hear about you when you think it’s time to tell them something. They want to talk about themselves, and they want you to talk about them. It’s all about them. Thus, the rise of social media, when you think about it.

This can be tough for brands. And, rightfully so. Communicators have spent their lifetimes telling people why they should care. Now that’s so yesterday. Still, even when a brand successfully engages people – consumers or employees – once they’ve got your attention, it’s easy to slip back into sell mode.

Help me help you
But social media is about helping, not selling. Although the more you help, the more you sell. P&G has rolled out this theory in a number of ways, but probably the most effective way is talking to 13 year old girls about tampons. P&G realized that they needed to engage the next wave of consumers: prepubescent girls. Girls that would perhaps buy their product at the onset of puberty and develop a loyalty to that product for 30 to 40 years. Nobody likes to talk about tampons. Girls REALLY don’t like to talk about puberty, let alone tampons.

Marketing to females and Gen Z? Perfect. It’s niche layered upon niche layered upon niche marketing. P&G developed an interactive website called beinggirl.com. Check it out. You don’t have to be a girl to recognize that it is brilliant. The website is not branded with or pushing the sale of feminine hygiene products. It invites girls to talk with each other (not with the brand) about certain challenges they are facing and get advice from Dr. Iris (a woman and a mother), whether it be questions about their changing bodies, or where to find the best soccer cleats. Thousands of girls have commented about any number of angsty teenage things. They have a voice. They feel heard. They can thank Tampax for that.

Do you see $ signs?
You can’t argue with success. Of course, P&G didn’t do all of this just to be nice.  The goal of the site is to sell P&G feminine hygiene products, and they succeeded. The site drove sales four times higher than traditional advertising.

Congrats to the P&G team. Job well done.