Social Media: An Ongoing Opportunity

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By Jason McRobbie

For those still wrestling with the fine print of a social media policy – or still wondering about its worth – look to the people who know the weight words carry best: the people at Canada Post.

No fewer than three times was their social media policy praised from the stage at the Impact99: Social Workplace Leadership Conference at Quest University atop Squamish on October 6, 2011. With due reason, much like the blue sky and bold peaks beyond the Impact99 classroom, Canada Post’s social media policy is clear, encompassing and provides a ready template.

Social media is no longer simply an option for the workplace; it is an ongoing opportunity already being engaged by innumerable employees, entrepreneurs and organizations. Unlike the printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio, fax machine, scanner, computer and Internet before it, social media represents something more than a revolutionary technology: an evolutionary opportunity to connect via more intelligent use of available technology.

What is required is a translation of the billboard concept of brand to a more fluid, responsive and multi-media telling of your story: sharing with your audience/customers, and building that brand with purpose, narrative and personality. Moreover, that story is already being told. Social media has already gone viral in the business community, at least for those who see the longview of small windows of time and multi-media.

Organized by ImpactPeoplePractices’ founder and BC HRMA member Christine McLeod, CHRP, Impact99 took specific aim at the implications and opportunities of social media as they pertain to human resources. McLeod took her own social media inspiration from a presentation at BC HRMA’s annual conference in 2009 when IBM’s Chuck Hamilton brought the technology’s potential to the HR stage. Much has since evolved.

The time has come for what Shane Gibson, author of Sociable! How Social Media is Turning Sales and Marketing Upside Down, describes as leadership 2.0:

“Trying to stop the conversation will only stimulate it. There is really one real thing to do – that is do. There are no marketing gurus to show you the way, only consumers with megaphones and all these tools we share. From a marketing and HR perspective, the question is ‘how do we rise above all the noise to communicate?’”

The answer is simple. When ingenuity runs rampant, be genuine and engage others. Know your audience, trust your people and use your characters wisely – and so become a font of service and source of ongoing story.  As with all good business, strong support from above is key to social media’s strategic implementation.

Gibson cites INGdirect and BuildDirect.com as organizations that utilized social media to engage their shareholder groups both internally and online. “This is an intimacy revolution. we are looking for much closer relations with the people we work with, for and who we buy things from,” said Gibson.

INGdirect CEO Peter Aceto not only helped anchor policy to put social media to work for clients and culture alike, he also tweets actively and explains the merit of doing so: “I heard I should be where our customers are and this works to the ethos of what we are aiming for in transparency as a bank.”

As founder and CEO of BuildDirect.com, Jeff Booth drew upon social media to encourage a culture played for serious fun in serious times. Donning a superhero costume for camera and culture challenge alike, Booth empowered others in the organization to do the same and help conquer the company’s financial statements. Booth’s strategy was simple: to engage the youngest members of his team, the milllenials who needed a bigger purpose than profit to rally to the company cause. That viral success story is now engrained in BuildDirect.com’s culture and comprehension of the cohesive value of social media inside out.

Tweeting bankers and CEOs in tights with tongue in cheek and visions parceled into 140 characters, are not however, all that is required for full strategic implementation of social media; that takes a team both online and out there.

“Social media doesn’t really work if you have one person in a cubicle running it,” explains Gibson. “Who owns social media is a good question and key for any and all companies. Is it the CEO, marketing, sales or HR?”

In answering his own question, the offers the reality for organizations of all types and sizes. “We are all media. Social media belongs to everything with applications in all departments.”

For HR, those applications, as illustrated by the speakers that followed Gibson at Impact99, run the gamut from recruitment to retention while opening wider avenues for employee engagement and innovation.

Fortunately, and as provided by companies such as the Vancouver-based Hootsuite, free and affordable online tools exist to both manage and monitor, along with the desired metrics to establish what Gibson admits is a tough one: ROI.

Though social media strategy can be readily equated as a Return on Influence, the traditional definition holds true as well for those who access the lateral audience factor. How does a local pub gain a global clientele? Doulin’s Irish Pub in Vancouver did it with one Twitter account and a 10 letter keyword search: conference. The after-party business is no small pot of social media gold.

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