Non-threatening ways to get your company started with social media

Posted on July 2, 2008 9:18 am by | Edge Content | External | Internal | Intranets | Social Media

As organizations seek to expand their communication efforts to include social media, they often find themselves facing the same hurdles that were faced and ultimately overcome by earlier adopters. Efforts to introduce social media have been hamstrung by questions of time commitment, IT issues, and legal concerns.

Usually, blogs are the tactic that face these obstacles (although I have also heard of other challenges, such as a legal objection to the construction of a special-purpose Facebook page). The assumption that blogs must be the company’s point of entry into social media is most likely based on the fact that blogs were the first social media tool. By the time other tools, like Twitter, came along, tens of millions of blogs already populated the Web and companies from Sun Microsystems to McDonald’s were already showing results from their blogging efforts.

While there are plenty of good reasons for a company to blog, there’s no rule that says blogs must kick off a company’s foray into social media. In fact, if you start with something that isn’t threatening to the lawyers or likely to raise much concern among IT staff, the successful implementation of smaller, less flashy tools can pave the way for more involved engagement.

If your company hasn’t touched social media yet, consider starting with these approaches:

  • For your external communications, add a “share this” link to every article or page
  • For internal communication, add a rating-and-comment feature to every page

Share this

People increasingly use aggregation tools to find interestithe websites of media outlets like The New York Times or CNN. (Max Kalehoff says he visits the Times site only to read particular blogs.) Democratized content sites like Digg, StumbleUpon, Reddit and NewsVine —where the users determine what’s important rather than a gatekeeper—are also growing in popularity. Even in the world of search, it’s not unusual to hear someone suggest that they get more targeted results by searching Delicious or Furl than Google.

imageIt’s altogether possible that a reader will submit a news item or press release from your website to one of these services. It’s far more likely, though, if you make it easy by giving them the utility to submit with just two clicks (one to open the “share this” box, the other to submit). Consider the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). A search of Digg produces several pages of results, most of which are less than flattering with headlines like “FDA’s handling of proposed cancer drug defies compassion” and “Shame on the FDA.” There is, however, a link to an FDA press release about the formation of a nanotechnology task force. The press release itself features no links at all. A “share this” link would certainly lead far more people to do so—people to whom it might never occur to share at all without the nudge.

In fact, if all of the FDA’s press releases contained “Share This” links, it’s likely that more positive material would find its way to Digg, Delicious, and other sites where they would be visible to people who would otherwise never see it, providing some balance to content submitted by the agency’s critics.

It’s important for organizations to get their messages out to where people are spending their time and consuming their information (which is not your dot-com website).

Rate-and-comment

Most intranets are hard to navigate and contain content of questionable value. The simple act of letting employees comment on and rate a page can make good content easier to find and increase the usefulness of a lot of that material.

Shel HoltzA simple YouTube-like five-star rating system serves a number of purposes. It gets employees accustomed to interacting. It provides an at-a-glance indication of how valuable other employees have found a page (assuming it has amassed enough votes). And a “highest-rated pages” listing can help direct employees to useful content (as opposed to most-viewed).

Enabling comments on pages lets employees enhance the content with their own experiences and observations. Consider the page containing the travel policy. An employee might add a comment noting that his expense report was kicked back multiple times because currency conversions were wrong, then directing employees to the right resource for calcuating conversions.

In both the external and internal cases, the value of social media should become evident in relatively short order and serve as a basis for introducing those blogs, Facebook pages, and other tools that help organizations engage in dialogues with their publics.

 

Comments

  • 1.A company called JS Kit (http://js-kit.com/) allows users to add comments and ratings to sites that don't have that sort of native functionality. These tools make it very simple to add social features without having to perform a complicated re-engineering of a website.

    Rob Safuto | July 2008 | Woodstock, NY

  • 2.Thanks for the tip, Rob. One issue, of course, is IT departments that will delay the implementation of such tools until they can be vetted to ensure compatibility with enterprise systems. This laborious internal process needs to be sped up as valuable tools like this are introduced.

    Shel Holtz | July 2008

  • 3.Great ideas. Have you seen any companies approach social media in this way? Did they end up getting more involved based on what they experienced?

    Patrick Evans | July 2008 | Dallas, TX

  • 4.Are there similar tools to JS Kit that allow you to create "Share This "links on your site?

    Mark DiJulio | July 2008

  • 5.Patrick, I haven't yet come across a company that has enabled rate-and-comment on all intranet material. But there are plenty of companies implementing "enterprise web 2.0" technologies. Forrester estimates it'll soon be a multi-billion market. As for "share-this," a lot of companies are starting to add it, but I haven't heard about any specific results yet; it's too recent a development.

    Mark, if you're running WordPress, there's a plugin that adds the "share this" function to your blog or WP-enabled website. There's one for Expression Engine, too. I suspect it's available for other recently-upgraded content management systems.

    Shel Holtz | July 2008

  • 6.Hi Shel,
    Nice piece. So true....there are lots of small, training-wheel steps companies can take to get started. However, I would propose that there are strategies that would even precede the sorts of tactics you mentioned, for companies to get started in social media.

    1. The first is listening.
    2. The second is experimenting on your personal time -- not affiliated with your company.
    3. The next is to start participating in other venues where relevant conversation is happening about your company or category (i.e., commenting on blogs, or representing your brand in forums).
    4. Practice internally behind your firewall. There are a number of companies that have developed very active and sizable social-media efforts within their walls.
    5. Perhaps most importantly, companies should survey their employees to understand how -- professionally or personally -- they're already active and engaged in social media. In all likelihood, there's significant activity that is just going on under the radar.

    Max Kalehoff | July 2008 | New York City

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