Introducing a series on social media training

Posted on March 20, 2012 5:55 am by | Internal | Social Media

Social Media TrainingAccording to a study from The Altimeter Group released last year, companies that provide employees with social media training and open access—rather than simply blocking social sites—experience fewer crises. The crises they do experience aren’t as severe as the companies that figure the best way to avoid problems is to bolt the doors and lock the windows (an approach that is both futile and stupid).

In fact, Altimeter’s conclusion doesn’t go far enough. According to the report, “A written policy is not sufficient on its own – companies must establish a baseline process to reinforce and update the policy, as well as train incoming hires.” True enough, but all employees need training, not just new hires.

This I have learned through my involvement in the planning and execution of several social media training efforts. These experiences have taught me a lot. For example…

  • Buying an off-the-shelf training program is a bad idea
  • To be successful, your training effort must be based on solid employee research
  • How you train—face-to-face, video, interactive online training and so on—should be chosen based on the culture and circumstances of the organization; you may need to use multiple methods to accommodate employees in different work environments
  • You’re better off reaching beyond the social media policy and include training about how employees can constructively talk about work in their online communities
  • Basic employee training should serve as a gateway for employees with a hunger for more, moving them into a second tier of training designed to prepare them to represent the company in social channels
  • Executives in the C-suite need training, too, but it’s often best delivered one-on-one in short, private sessions

And that’s just a taste. What it comes down to is this:

The more effort you put into tailoring a social media training process that’s right for your organization, the better the outcomes will be.

Over the next several weeks (or longer, depending on my workload and energy level), I’m going to share a series of posts covering several dimensions of social media training. I’ll draw mostly on my own experiences, but also on the work others have shared. I’ll talk about the research you should plan to do before undertaking internal training and the measurement you should undertake after employees have gone through the training. I’ll cover the pros, cons, issues and approaches of different training methods. How to train different levels of employees—like executives—will also be part of the series. In the next post, I’ll cover how to get management support for developing a training program.

Before we even get started, though, there’s one point that must serve as a preface to this series: If you don’t have a good social media policy, there’s little point in training. A key reason to offer the training is to create awareness of the policy. Why? Because employees don’t read policies. Why? Because policies are boring, jargon-laden documents that lawyers have subjected to their legalese filters. They have little, if anything, to do with the day-to-day work that occuplies employees’ time. They already have 800 emails backed up and are putting in 10-hour days. And half the time, they don’t even know the policy exists.

Be honest: Have you read every policy with which your employer expects you to comply? If you travel on business, have you read the travel policy? If you talk on the company’s phones, have you read the telephone policy? If you work for a Fortune 1000 company, I’ll bet it has policies you didn’t know existed.

Violating the travel or telephone policy is one thing. Screwing up in social media, however, where it’s permanent and visible to the world, is another. Think of it like HIPAA, where the policy is designed to ensure nobody in the company violates anybody’s privacy when it comes to their health and medical information. That’s too important to leave to the hope that staff will read it, so healthcare organizations conduct annual HIPAA training. Social media needs to be like that.

If you don’t have a policy in place, get to work. I’ve been curating a collection of materials on social media policies; it’s as good a place as any to start.

If you do have a policy, it’s time to start developing a plan to make sure employees are trained so that when they talk about work (and they will), it serves the company’s interests.

Next up: Building management support



  • 1.I look forward to the entire series..keep us posted

    Anneliz Hannan | March 2012 | MA

  • 2.Great stuff, Shel, and I'm hearing from corporations (seemingly) daily that this is what they need.

    Mark Dollins | March 2012 | Greater NYC Metro

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