The widespread proliferation of social networking has inspired companies of all sizes to stand up and take notice. Not just for outward-facing marketing, but for inward-facing communications.
Authenticity starts at home
The rise of social media marketing has illuminated the importance of corporate transparency and authenticity – words that make many corporate executives unaccustomed to the tenets of social media cringe. The virtues of social media include building rapport with individual customers and relating to them not as data points on a sales chart, but as humans with real questions and needs. This has spawned a fundamental shift in how companies look to relate with prospects. Married with the growing mistrust of corporations and marketing in general, this shift spawns the need for all members of an organization to be prepared to represent an organization in a unified, credible manner.
Be prepared to walk the walk
I’ve spoken with many companies that are weighing the decision to “jump into social media.” As the phrase suggests, many times it’s a borderline reckless act. The sense of urgency concerning social media marketing is a double-edged sword. You want to encourage excitement about the medium, but you also want to be sure that the rush to engage doesn’t backfire. For many customers, I recommend testing the waters in the relative safety of your own pool before braving the wild seas of the social Web. An internal social network can fit the bill.
Cover your heels, Achilles
Many companies entrust their social media efforts to a team or task force…or sometimes, one Atlas-like individual. Leadership tries to harness the energies of those employees who seem the most in-the-know and/or most enthusiastic and put them on the front lines. They are also often being unwittingly shoved into a minefield.
While the social team may be capable and well armed, many times they will be bypassed for the soft underbelly of the organization. Here’s a dangerous scenario you want to avoid: “Hey, great blogs you guys are writing. What do you know about that?” If the reply from anyone in your organization is “I don’t know…guess that’s some social media thing we’re trying” or worse yet, “What blog?”, then you’re in trouble. And that exposure stands to spread like wildfire.
Pursuing a social network internally helps you share information readily with all constituents across the organization. More than just the monthly newsletter, the immediacy of the medium keeps everyone informed in real-time about your social media marketing efforts. Decentralizing the internal network also facilitates nimble communication. Set up interest groups for marketing or HR or finance. Have team leaders facilitate dialogue within the network and feed the chain of communication command.
Improve your company’s social IQ
“Social software is a trend that cannot be ignored. It is bringing about fundamental change to the way people expect to communicate with one another. Companies cannot use social tools with their customers and not also allow their employees to utilize them.” – Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group
Social media is most effective when it’s not something a company merely does, but it is a way a company is. Conditioning companies for this new state of mind begins inside corporate walls. Executives and rank-and-file alike can benefit from understanding the way social networking works by using it among themselves. By leveraging the essential tools of blogging, wikis, forums and chat and the sharing of personal information, companies are learning to unlock the productive potential of their employees, to understand how to relate to each other as human beings, and how to communicate with visibility and authenticity. Very real benefits can include:
- Collaborative brainstorming that improves products and services
- Bolstered customer support
- Reinforced awareness of the corporate mission and brand voice
- Improved intra- and inter-departmental communication and awareness of different initiatives
- Enhanced recruitment efforts
- Reduced turnover
Tools like Yammer and Ning (we at Binary Pulse are fans of both) can help organizations large and small begin using social tools immediately. You’ll find that the more your team acclimates to the practices of social dialogue internally, the better they’ll be prepared to represent the company externally.
More and more, corporations are awakening to this new mindset. Companies like Dell, Best Buy, IBM, Nissan and Sun Microsystems have helped pioneer innovative internal social networking.
Fostering improved communication up and down the corporate ladder – while painful at times – is almost always eye-opening. But opening our own eyes and ears to each other is a great step toward improving the way we view and listen to customers.