My Take: Harnessing the Power of Social Media, SI Review June 2010

Deck: Savvy Staffing Firms Use Webinars to Leverage Training, Sales

By Mark Metzendorf, Vice President, U.S. Marketing and Franchise Relations, Manpower

Contemporary organizations across the globe are increasingly harnessing the connective power of social networks to enhance their brand and to drive employee engagement. Social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and Second Life allow individuals to connect, communicate and share information with unprecedented ease and power. Already, millions of individuals and organizations are active social networkers.

However, the tremendous popularity of social media raises serious challenges around reputation management for organizations. Company brands now exist as living, breathing entities in an online ecosystem, and their reputations can be enhanced or discredited at the click of a button.

A recent survey by Right Management confirmed that workers use social networks to assess prospective employers, highlighting why it is so critical for organizations, especially staffing companies who are in the business of putting people to work, to successfully factor social networks into their brand reputation activities. Thirty-one percent of respondents said they use social media to determine if prospective employers value and respect their employees. The survey also revealed that 30% of respondents use social media to learn about career development opportunities.

For these reasons, there is a clear role for social networks to help build and maintain engagement and brand reputations in our industry. With the dawn of a new decade, now is the time for staffing companies to embrace social media to communicate with people who are just as comfortable "Tweeting" or "Friending" as they are making a phone call. In return, these individuals will embrace employers who use social media as a key part of their daily communication and allow them to use it as a business tool.

For the workforce at large, social networks are invaluable tools for organizations to communicate their core mission and vision. For example, leaders can use social media to establish and enhance a two-way dialogue with employees who, in turn, can then understand better how they individually are a key piece of the company puzzle. Social networks are especially helpful for increasing engagement among temporary and contract employees who are based at various remote client locations. This also paves the way for an open forum that was never possible in the past.

As we have discussed, social networks can be very effective at strengthening an employer brand. But what happens when social networks threaten to derail your reputation? Take, for example, a negative comment about the treatment of employees. While social networks present risks in these situations, they also present opportunities. While organizations can't control social networks, they can use their voice. The key is to determine whether the issue is systemic and needs addressing or whether it's a person leveraging social networks as a vehicle for therapy or to vent. Staffing companies should harness social networks as a tool to respond to potentially damaging allegations quickly and easily. If the company is one step ahead, already utilizing and actively present on social networks, they can start, or even influence, a conversation with a ready-made community of brand activists about contentious or sensitive issues. It also demonstrates that the company is actively embracing technology, and most importantly, that they are listening and willing to act based on things they have heard in the social media groundswell.

Ultimately, although social networks present huge risks if used haphazardly, they can be leveraged as a contemporary channel to reinforce your brand and elevate your reputation if harnessed effectively.
Manpower recommends that companies consider taking the following steps to promote the constructive use of social networks:

Clearly communicate to employees what you are attempting to accomplish. A classic mistake is for companies to enter the social network space without a clear sense of what they are trying to achieve. The risk of jumping in to social networks simply because they are en vogue is that more harm could be done than good. You should outline what benefits you are hoping to reap from social media, how that vision fits within the company culture and ensure that all employees understand the core values.

Challenge employees to innovate. Promote the positive use of social networks by encouraging employees to come up with ways to use these tools to do their jobs better. People love to discuss their successes, so get employees to describe how they have used social media tools in new ways -- for example, to generate leads or serve customers better. You can focus these efforts by function or interest, as needed. Consider holding a
contest for the best new ideas. Engagement increases when employees feel as if they are contributing.

Tap internal experts. Teach by example by encouraging employees who regularly use social networking in their jobs to discuss and demonstrate how it's done. Keep track of the new ideas that flow from this kind of mentoring exchange, and share the ideas and best practices.

Let employees "own" the governance. The foundation of any healthy social network is an engaged community. Let your employees help develop and enforce your company's guidelines. This approach will certainly appeal to those employees most likely to use social media, promoting trust in the goals of the guidelines that ultimately are instituted.

It is critical not to insist that final policies are set in stone; instead, they should be allowed to change and evolve as the technologies evolve. Any social media guidelines should be linked to your company's overall behavioral guidelines. The goal is to create a system of governance under which social networking is not seen as an exception, but rather an activity that is intimately connected to your company's overall people practices. Only by creatively channeling its use will staffing companies succeed in reaping the benefits of a sustained enhancement to their employer brand.

Mark Metzendorf joined Manpower in June 2009 and is focused on the strategic positioning of the Manpower brand and driving business to great growth.

Tips for Writing an Effective Social Media Framework

You're ready to unleash the power of social media, but how do you address governance? Manpower offers the following lessons learned from writing its social media framework that can be useful when it's time to write yours.

Don't create a policy. The term "policy," by definition, is restrictive. Create a framework that contains both fixed and flexible components to provide people with the appropriate degree of governance along with the flexibility to exercise their creativity.

Tie your social media guidelines into a larger communication framework. What is your company trying to accomplish? What does your company's tone look like? What does it mean to be on message at your organization? When these two concepts are crystal clear to your employees, they will be well equipped to represent your company effectively and responsibly.

Be authentic, and encourage your employees to do the same. The magic of social media is building a connection with a real person (in addition to a product or a brand). Be transparent about your identity online, and encourage your employees to do the same.

Be lofty, aspirational and inspiring. Focus on the do's rather than the don'ts. If you write a framework that your employees find to be restrictive, you will lose the opportunity
to leverage this media in the most genuine and effective ways.

Know the code. If you are asking your employees to behave online in a way that is not covered in your code of conduct,
then both documents might be overdue for a refresh. Employees should behave honestly and with integrity online, keeping proprietary information private. In short, they should behave how they behave in any other company setting.

Keep it short. Manpower's social media framework is one page long. You want to harness the power of social media. Overly intensive guidelines are discouraging. Short means simple, understandable and easy to follow.

Now is the time to look for ways to harness the popularity and business value of social media in order to boost organizational performance and further corporate goals. A thoughtful framework will give employees the freedom to use social media in a way that will benefit your company and employees alike.


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