Social media engagement is like casting a pebble in a pond: Networks grow in concentric circles. For any organization looking to build its online presence, the networking and socialization should begin from within, and start at the top.
An interesting study released last spring by Austin-based PulsePoint Group, illustrates the importance of the “C-suite” in fostering organizational buy-in and excellence in social media use and engagement. Notably, it found that:
- Two-thirds of the organizations achieving the highest returns reported that their C-suites are active advocates– that is, they commit to social engagement as a strategy and they reallocate resources to make it happen.
- However, a full 28% of C-suite executives still don’t believe in social engagement. And the number one reason? The inability to gauge ROI (45%). For engagement to work, the C-suite has to believe in it and see measurable returns.
For an organization exploring social media as a way to connect with its clients or audiences, the place to begin should always be with its employees and associates and the initial pitch should be made by the boss.
Enlisting your employees to be part of the conversation has a number of advantages. It allows you to tap into their networks and a large ready-made community of interest, and synergize ongoing conversations to help project your brand and message. It serves to bolster internal communications and create an organization-wide sense of empowerment and ownership of a new strategy. It also helps staff internalize and articulate the key organizational values, ethics and goals that make up your corporate brand.
This exercise can be formal or informal. Anything from training workshops to “lunch and learn” sessions will do as long as these provide the time and space to freely discuss the organization’s social media strategy and policies, its benefits and costs, and everyone’s role in its implementation. The most important point of these sessions is that they are opportunities for the organization’s leadership to share and discuss their goals and vision for the organization, how social media can help achieving these and explain how employees and other associates are key to achieving those goals.
In any hierarchical organization, a disconnect from the corporate leadership can cause uncertainty among the rank and file, stifling initiative and lead to a fallback to the safety of the status-quo. In a rapidly eveolving and competitive environment, this can cause a brand to sputter and fail. And while in the past organizations embraced a tightly controlling spokesperson policy in the name of message discipline, in a communications environment where your audience becomes your medium, engagement and conversations must be the norm.
Making an organization’s chief executives its evangelists-in-chief and the face of online engagement will send a powerful and empowering message to its employees. Effective online social engagement is all about the capacity to engage and converse based on genuine caring about your community. A corporate social media strategy that begins from within, serves to empower employee engagement as brand ambassadors by bringing them into the corporate loop and recognizing the importance of their participation.
Effective social media engagement requires a more horizontal, less hierarchical, and more trusting approach to external communication. A critical part of this approach must involve bringing the c-suite and all employees into the social fold, and into the conversation–internally and externally.