ABCs of Corporate Social Media

Jan 24, 2019

By AMA Staff

Christine Eberle is Executive Director of Accenture Management Consulting’s talent and organization performance practice. A contributor to the new book, The Social Media Management Handbook, she recently spoke to AMA about the latest trends in social media for an Edgewise podcast. The following is an edited version of that interview.

AMA: Let’s start with an issue that you address in the book: why is an organization’s culture so critical to its successful use of social media?
Eberle: Culture is a very important part of any transformation program for an organization, and it’s one that sometimes gets overlooked. Folks will invest millions, or even hundreds of millions, of dollars in programs and then wonder why they’re not successful. Sometimes it can be traced back to a lack of attention to the unique cultural considerations that an organization has to deal with. Social media in particular brings with it a whole host of cultural considerations on top of what you might see with a regular transformation program.

You have to think about multiple generations working together effectively. Workers in the Millennial generation (those born between 1977 and 1995) have typically been immersed in technology throughout their lives. It’s part of the way they think. In fact, I think there’s some scientific research to show that the ways that their brains work is something you can see on a functional MRI scan when you ask them to do a task or a problem solving activity versus somebody in one of the later generations. So that really is important to consider.

Today, Millennials account for roughly 40% of the workforce, so that’s about 80 million people worldwide. Technology is like air for them. It’s the way they communicate naturally, and it’s a mindset where they feel more collaborative. They understand how to leverage social networks with a bit more ease and agility than some later workers.

We have to make sure that we’re looking at how these Millennials can excel and to integrate that into an existing workplace environment where folks from later generations may have more of the content expertise or familiarity with the industry or the company’s culture. So the real reason culture is so critical is because the magic is in getting all of these different generations to work together seamlessly.

AMA: What are some of the impediments to a company’s effective implementation and use of social media?
Eberle: One problem is executive resistance. Often, executives believe that enabling social media technologies is a risk for the company. They worry that there might be a decline in productivity because folks might spend too much of their time chatting with their friends and not enough of their time focusing on their jobs. Or, they fear that if people can post questions and answers and their opinions it could present legal challenges, or that people might complain or share things that are inappropriate.

But in reality, I think those fears are largely unfounded. In fact, we’ve seen enhancements in productivity when you use social media to support the ways in which people are most naturally inclined to communicate with one another anyway. It can help transcend global barriers. It can more easily connect people separated by geography. There’s sometimes the ability to enable folks who are senior in the organization to have more candid discussions with less senior people, so you’re connecting the generations a little bit more seamlessly. In terms of worrying about legal issues or information that shouldn’t be public or posted on an internal social media site, what we’ve found is that if a company doesn’t create this capability from within, the employees tend to use social media anyway, but they may then post content on a server or a platform that’s external to the company. So that’s even more of a risk.

So you can’t really stop it. The train has already left the station. And to the extent that a company can support it, usually that helps protect against some of those fears that the executive leadership team might have.

AMA: Should companies have rules to protect the company about the employees’ use of social media—covering what they can say, what they can’t say, and insisting that they get permission first?
Eberle: Well, certainly having a social media policy is not a bad thing. It can help draw a circle around how social media should and should not be used. But when you look at the values that the Millennial generation has in general about life and about the way they want to work, they tend to feel very strongly that openness and honesty and keeping it real are critical. To some extent, those things may be even more strongly valued than salary or other components of a typical employee value proposition. There are a lot of debates about this, certainly. WikiLeaks is a fantastic example of taking it to the extreme and what happens when all information becomes unclassified and shared, even though that’s not a corporate example.

You can quickly imagine scenarios where company secrets are leaked or opinions about the company are publicized that don't necessarily serve anybody’s best interests; but that tends to be the extreme, and what we really see is the inverse. In our experience, the policies surrounding social media that are the most helpful are the ones that help encourage everybody to utilize social media capabilities. 

AMA: What about social media goals of furthering enterprise goals?
Eberle: At the enterprise level, especially coming out of this most recent recession, we’re seeing a lot of our clients focused on creativity. Typically the ones that have survived the recession have already done a lot of work downsizing or streamlining their capabilities, whether that’s through shared services, real estate consolidation, new technologies, or new finance systems that help them become more competitive in terms of their cost. So cost reduction is still definitely a big part of a business’s strategy. But more so than that, the differentiator in today’s world tends to be growth and creativity; and what we find with respect to social media is that some of these growth goals can be best supported when you’ve got a very collaborative environment in place. You’re trading ideas. You’re building upon somebody else’s work in a different geography. There’s less reinventing the wheel. You’re more aware of what’s going on, and it probably triggers ideas in your own brain about things that could help move the company forward.

AMA: How can companies use social media as a recruiting tool?
Ederle: There are obvious answers—for example, leveraging Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter to really get in touch with people who might not have proactively applied to the company through typical job boards. If a company has an overall human capital or talent strategy, it’s important that you don't just use recruiting as a way to fill immediate short-term goals. It’s a longer-term proposition where you stay in touch with the top talent in the field—people who may or may not even be looking for job at the moment—and developing those relationships so that when the time is right you can pull the trigger and bring the highest performing resources into your company. Whether that’s sending a note via Twitter saying, “Here’s a recent article about our industry that I want you to read,” or sending text messages over a smart phone to somebody just to let them know that you’re thinking about them.

AMA: In the book you write about how rewards and incentives can be set up around social media success metrics. Can you elaborate on that?
Eberle: What we’ve seen is that companies are attempting to be more proactive in their customer satisfaction strategy. Let’s say you recently stayed at a hotel and you had a horrible experience as a consumer. You can go out and rate your experience on five or six different major websites, even down to the level of people’s names: Sally at the front desk was not as helpful as she could have been.

And so, the workforce that we need to be able to address that type of scenario is one that is able to go out and proactively mine for these feedbacks on the Internet and understand which sites people are going to, reaching out to customers proactively and saying, “Hey, I heard you had a bad experience. Let me make it up to you.”

So the types of incentives that you would need to motivate and reward your phone agents might have more to do with how many of these postings they were able to proactively find. You could do even a risk aversion metric—to what extent were you able to prevent negative word of mouth from impacting our company? It’s sort of uncharted territory right now, but those are the types of questions that we’re working really closely with our clients to help them understand how social media changes the rewards and incentives landscape.

AMA: Is there anything you’d like to add?
Eberle: I would just like to reinforce the fact that with respect to social media and culture, it’s a matter of finding the right balance between the new and the old. Some of the principles, methods, and best practices that we’ve known about for years with respect to human capital strategy and talent management programs still hold true. It’s just that the application of these may shift in today’s environment. It opens up exciting new opportunities for companies to be able to really communicate and connect with their employees in ways that they haven’t been able to before and to develop a corporate culture that is pretty exciting. Everybody can be focused and aligned on the same values while at the same time inspiring creativity and hearing all the different voices of folks who make up that company.

Listen to the podcast.

About The Author(s)

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