Dell pilots social media training for Subject Matter Experts2012-10-31
The rise of social technologies is shining an ever-brighter spotlight on subject matter experts (SMEs). I’ve written recently about the University of Toronto focusing its journalism training effort on SMEs. Last week, while attending the launch of Cisco Systems’ Social Media Listening Center, I found the company had trained 1,500 SMEs to engage in social channels on the company’s behalf, including responding to queries forwarded to them by Listening Center staff based on their area of expertise.
Liz Bullock pinged me after I published the Cisco post. Liz is director of Social Media and Community (SMaC) at Dell, which has been a bellwether company when it comes to social adoption. She let me know that Dell is pilot-testing a training program for SMEs designed to enable them to participate more fully in engaging Dell’s widespread communities. Her role is focused on the company’s SMaC University program, which is designed to get Dell employees engaged with customers.
It’s all part of an effort to connect the dots between the experts with answers and customers with problems or questions.
“A lot of employees have expertise on products or solutions, but they didn’t yet have a virtual voice or they’re just getting started,” Liz said. So we developed a customized ‘hand-hold’ workshop training for them.” The pilot training was launched this past month with SMEs in cloud computing and Windows 8. “They pretty much knew social media and they knew their own areas of expertise. They just didn’t necessarily have this personal voice.”
Liz’s team spent a considerable amount of time identifying the key SMEs, building a database of experts based on recommendations and nominations from within their groups. “Then we went to the leadership team and told them we were thinking about rolling out this training for SMEs in cloud and Windows 8, that we’ve got a list and believe they’re the right folks. We got validation from the executives, then reached out to the SMEs and explained that they had been chosen because they’re key SMEs within their solutions.”
The 20 or so students are a mix of beginniners and seasoned social media participants like Barton George, Dell’s Cloud Computing Group evangelist. George is listed among a number of SMEs under “Expert Insight” at Dell, where he works with customers, analysts and media in addition to his blog and Twitter activities. By including the more experienced workshop participants, the beginners would see “powerful, well-known SMEs who would help them aspire to become equally engaged spokespersons,” Liz told me. “The advanced SMEs add a lot of color, commentary and best-practice insights.”
To their surprise, the experienced SMEs also found they were getting value from participating. “Because of what they do in their jobs, they don’t have a lot of time to focus on all the best practices around social,” Liz said. “They don’t always know all the tools. And they don’t necessarily know how to measure the results of their efforts.” These are elements of the training, which consists of four two-hour weekly classes that feature some lecture, some discussion, and even homework.
“We’re bringing a lot of measurement training to the class,” Liz said, explaining that most people engaging in social channels don’t know how to do, yet it’s important that they be able to “go back to their management teams and show how they’re effectively driving conversation or influencing Dell’s share of voice. It’s important that the management team can see what they’re bringing to the business through their social engagement.”
Led by SMaC training Program Lead Amy Tennison, the class also covers training on Sprinklr, the social media management system Dell has adopted. “Even though we have Sprinklr and other social media tools, we find that people don’t get in-depth hand-holding on how to use them. We’re enhancing their skills, allowing them to be more efficient at what they do and how to measure it,” Liz explained.
Once trained, these SMEs can be sent queries that have been identified in Dell’s Social Media Listening Command Center. But employees can also pull up listeninig visualizations at their own workstations, enabling SMEs to participate in relevant conversations within their area of expertise without waiting to be notified of an opportunity. The opportunity to help SMEs get better at using these tools may lead to an extension of the program beyond its original four sessions.
While the pilot has been conducted classroom-style, virtual training for remote employees will be tested in November and December. “We recognize that it’s critical to provide this training for our businesses elsewhere, but the classroom environment is so productive,” Liz insists; “it allows for questions and it brings the community of people doing similar work together. It makes them more comfortable with the concepts and builds a network of fellow SMEs they can reach out to with their own questions.”
If this program isn’t ambitious enough, Liz told me a new SME training program is in development for executive SMEs that will launch in 2013. “Executive SMEs have amazing information, and it’s different than the individual contributors. We’re developing a different training program for them.”
Clearly, SME engagement as representatives of the organization within their areas of expertise is one important way the social enterprise involves employees at all levels, not just an authorized marketing team, in social media. The smart companies will make sure this employee segment gets the kind of training that can make a big difference with customers and, ultimately, company profitability.