It's taken most companies a long time to incorporate social media tools into the workplace.
Many have blocked Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter so that employees can't access them at work because they believe it's a productivity drain. Social media has permeated all business functions and in some instances is being used over traditional methods of communication like a phone or email. Customers are demanding social media support and employees, especially millennials, need to be constantly connected to one another in order to function.
In a new study in partnership with American Express, we found that social media skills were the least important to managers. Only 7% of managers viewed social media skills as being the most important when evaluating an employee's performance. This compares to 61% who felt the same about soft skills and 32% for hard skills. Clearly, social media skills aren't viewed as important in the modern day organization, even though everyone already uses them whether managers like to or not. You simply can't avoid the 1 billion-plus users on Facebook and the more than 200 million users on LinkedIn. We live in a social economy where everyone is connected, all of the time.
For employees, social network skills can make them stand out at work, build a strong network, and increase their overall value to their company. "I have an employee who has taken to Twitter and interacts with colleagues in our office on this platform," says Travis Kessel, a VP of Recruitment at Edelman. "This has allowed her to network with others she would not necessarily have exposure to and her efforts in this area have made her someone we look to for special projects we are leading in the digital space," he says. By developing your social media skills, you are in effect gaining both soft and hard skills. Hard skills are developed through learning how the tools work and the dynamics behind them, while soft skills are developed through the ability to use them to communicate, build relationships and influence others.
From a business perspective, more emphasis should be placed on social media skills because that's how the new customer wants to be both sold to and serviced. "With social becoming a main mode of communications today, employees need to have a good understanding and be able to utilize these channels," explains Scott Gulbransen, the director of social media at H&R Block." "Because our clients and customers are there communicating and talking, we must be, too," says Gulbransen. Social media tools have been effectively used by companies for various purposes in order to reach customers, compete for talent, and grow their businesses.
Managers at the majority of companies don't see the value in using social media tools for promotional purposes. The study found that only 16% believe it's very important or extremely important. Smart companies, like IBM and Microsoft, have enabled all employees to blog and have incorporated those blogs on their websites, which attract about 500 million and 50 million visitors each month respectfully. IBM has over 30,000 employee blogs and Microsoft has over 7,000. Employee blogs share personal narratives and expert opinions that relate to their industries, professions, as well as products and services sold. Collectively, these posts produce a wealth of information that promote their companies.
Using your employees to recruit on social networks is very effective, yet only 13% of managers think that it's either very important or extremely important. Marc Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce.com, emailed his sales team to spread a job opening on social networks. His team posted 350 status updates on LinkedIn, which were visible to 159,000 professionals from 40,000 companies. Overall, they yielded a 60% increase in sales employee referral submissions in just one week. The sales team didn't get paid more. Instead, they just leveraged their social network to generate interest.
Employees are looking for support, not just on the phone but online and they expect companies to be there answering questions. The problem is that only 14% of managers believe that social media is either very important or extremely important for customer service. The @comcastcares Twitter account is still the best example of how a company can support customers through the social media channel and save money in the process. The account now has more than 60,000 followers and reviews a few thousand tweets every day. This saves the company money from hiring more support professionals and decreases phone queues. In addition, when Comcast answers questions through Twitter, those answers can support everyone following the account, which is a scaleable solution relative to one customer service rep helping one customer on the phone.
Cold calling is on the decline and inbound marketing is becoming increasingly popular in a world in which you need to build trust with customers before you can close a sale. Too bad only 15% of managers think that social media profiles are very important or extremely important for generating leads. Ford was able to generate new business for its Fiesta car by launching a social media campaign on YouTube that generated more than 6 million views on YouTube, with over 130,000 of them showing interest in receiving more information about the car. Leveraging your employees networks to drive attention and leads for your business is important, and it's an opportunity that most companies don't take advantage of.
[Image: Flickr user Nick Harris]