Entries from March 2012 ↓

Training employees on social media improves engagement, boosts company reputation

Companies accrue far greater advantages from providing their employees with social media training and letting them engage with their communities than they do from blocking access. I’ve written here before about the results of The Altimeter Group’s study that found the organizations that avoided crises or kept their impact to a minimum were the few deemed “advanced,” the ones that conducted such training and didn’t block access.

I’ve talked over the last several years about several ways open employee access serves the organization’s interests, from recruiting and access to subject matter experts to idea-testing and brand evangelism. After this morning, I’m adding a couple more to the list.

I have Sara Folkerts to thank. Sara is a social media manager for Sprint at the mobile provider’s Kansas City headquarters. Sara’s role includes a focus on getting employees engaged in social channels. She was the guest speaker at a meeting of the technology special interest group of the Kansas City IABC chapter. I’m not a member of the IABC chapter, but non-members were invited to join via a Google Hangout or a teleconference. There was even one participant from Costa Rica! The Hangout featured a camera trained on the conference table, shown below:

Sara’s presentation focused on the Sprint Ninja program, which so far has attracted some 2,000 employees to undergo training to prepare them to engage in their communities on company-related topics, from helping solve customer problems to evangelizing new phones. She pointed two two important outcomes from the effort. First, internal surveys have determined that employees who participate in the program are more engaged.

Engagement is the measure of an employee’s desire to exert discretionary effort on the company’s behalf. Engaged employees are also more inclined to recommend the company to others, whether it’s recommending its products or its desirability as an employer. Because growth in market share has been linked to levels of engagement, there’s hardly a CEO on earth who isn’t look to increase the size of his organization’s highly engaged population.

Second, Sarah said research Sprint contracted from the Reputation Institute has shown that the company’s reputation has improved as a result of its trained employees speaking directly with customers via social channels. Since reputation can also be linked to a company’s valuation, a strong reputation is a valuable asset. (The book Reputation by Charles Fonbrum, founder and chairman of the Institute, had a profound impact on my thinking about PR and communications.

Interestingly, the Reputation Institute also suggested the company needed at least 8,500 employees to be engaged online for Sprint to achieve the full potential of employees engaged online with the public. The company’s working on hitting that target.

Here’s one more nugget out of many I took away from Sara’s session: Among the topics Sprint’s employee Ninjas say they’re most interested in is information about the company’s social media activities. That got me thinking: How many organizations report as part of their routine internal communication efforts on what the company is doing in the social space? Among the companies I’ve worked with, I’ve seen very little attention paid to sharing social media plans and activities. Internal communicators should make it a habit to keep employees up to date on how the company is engaging with its customers, both tactically (such as reporting on the launch of a social campaign) and strategically (like the steps the company is taking to become a more social business).

In any case, nurturing your internal advocates makes a whole lot more sense than restricting employee access to social media. Sprint is among the companies blazing the trail toward effective, informed employee social interaction.

(She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m going to try to convince Sara to be a guest on an FIR interview.)