Article originally published in South Africa's leading HR publication, HR Future
Brett is an International monthly columnist on employer branding for HR Future
When social media first hit the news a few years ago many companies resisted its surge in popularity and banned employees from accessing online networking sites during working hours. This attitude is no longer an option with social media reaching a tipping point in 2009. The challenge facing organisations today is how to react to this change in consumer and employee behaviour and embrace this new media which is fast becoming entwined into their daily lives. My discussions with HR, Marketing and Communication leaders in 20 countries I visited during the past two years has led me to believe 2010 is expected to be the year social media goes mainstream for business.
Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are the big 3 which dominate the global social media landscape. With more than 400 million users, Facebook is the world’s largest dispersed social network. It took Facebook about three months to climb from 300 to 350 million users and only about two months to gain another 50 million, indicating Facebook’s explosive growth is still accelerating. LinkedIn has 55 million users and Twitter has 18 million (but is younger than the other two) and still growing strong. According to Pingdom, an online monitoring service, Twitter saw an all-time high of more than 1.2 billion tweets in January 2010. That’s alot of noise happening online!
The emergence of social networks demands total transparency. Your employee and candidate experience will be reported on, not just by word of mouth, but also perhaps via twitter or Facebook. Potential workers tend to believe what they hear from their social networks more than what they hear from a potential employer. Workers tend to rely on what they hear from peers versus superiors. Social networks are ultimately about establishing a relationship, not about advertising or pushing a message.
Companies such as Fortune 500 Company, EMC is using tools such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, LinkedIn and employee blogs and tweets to build awareness and affinity with the talent market. EMC use these tools to provide a genuine, testimonial-based look at EMC’s culture, careers and capabilities, as well as bringing awareness to certain job openings, company developments and general career tips.
So where should companies in South Africa begin in developing and leveraging their social media strategy?
- Listen and observe - Employ listening devices such as Google Alerts or Twitter Search, to track conversations and instances associated with key words or your company. Follow some companies who are leading the way in leveraging social media. I suggest you follow and observe Zappos (1.6 million followers on Twitter), Southwest Airlines (1.6 million Twitter followers), Sodexo, Microsoft, Ernst and Young, EMC, and JetBlue Airways for starters. These follower numbers are staggering and when you consider the cost, time and impact involved in reaching this many people using traditional media such as print and TV the opportunities for your employer brand and consumer brand are obvious.
- Collaborate - Success in social media will be characterized by a concerted and collaborative effort between IT and all other business functions.
- Create a presence - across one or more social networks such as Facebook (fan pages), Twitter and possibly set up a YouTube channel. Early on, this is often experimental, and less about strategic engagement so don’t rush in head first, learn how to read the game. Develop content that meets consumers' needs and interests.
- Find a sense of purpose or theme – once you are comfortable with how things are tracking find a sense of purpose and you will build a loyal following. Don’t try to be all things to all people, you will only confuse the community and cause them to switch off.
- Build community – strong communities take time to build. Even Twitter wasn’t an overnight sensation, it took time to reach its tipping point and will your community. Focus on the quality of interactions rather than on the number of fans, followers or noise you create. Content is no longer king, it’s about context!
- Develop metrics – don’t forget the CFO! Without reliable metrics for your social media strategy it is going to be difficult to secure investment for your strategy. Track relevant conversations, responses, customer relationships, and sales across social media forums
- ENJOY – social media presents an enormous opportunity to improve employee engagement using tools that foster collaboration, sharing, authenticity and trust - KEY ingredients employees have been seeking for many years so embrace the social media revolution and start your journey now.