3: Setting the Tone: Social Tech from a Leadership Perspective

The degree to which an organization is successful depends largely on the way in which the leaders encourage their people and "set the tone." This is no less true for social technology: the majority of people within the organization will adopt or shun it, use it well or poorly, based on the encouragement of their leadership.

The notion of "leading by example" is perhaps the most powerful way to influence others. The executive who chats up the benefits of social media, but doesn't have a blog or a Facebook account, lacks credibility - and the staff take their cues from the behavior, not the words of their leaders. (EN: not to mention that the leader himself suffers credibility issues.)

It's especially important at this moment in time, where those in management and executive roles are not technology adopters and see it as something that the young, new employees are playing with. If they don't hear it from someone they respect, someone above them and even older than themselves, they will continue to disregard its potential.

Also due to the age gap, senior staff are reluctant to use new technology for fear of losing face. An executive who fumbles with something fears that he will seem incompetent. If he refuses to use it at all, and denigrates it as silly and unworthy of serious interest, he maintains a personal air of competence and authority - at the cost of his organization's success.

With this in mind, leaders are encouraged to make an earnest effort to understand, and to use, social technology. It does not guarantee that you will find it to be beneficial to the organization - but at the very least you should make an informed and confident decision not to adopt it.

A specific caution is given against "symbolic attempts" to use social tools. A company or person who launches a Facebook page, twitter account, blog, or other social tools and then does not use it looks extremely foolish, even more than one who does not dabble at all. Pick one tool, two at the most, and plan time to tend to its care and feeding. At the end of this month, ask if you are really making good use of it - and if not, shut it down and delete it entirely.

Tips for Personal Use

The author provides some random tips for an individual using social media:

In using social, seek to strike a balance between being too professional (which makes you seem boring and impersonal) and too casual (which makes you seem silly and inane). This is easier said than done, and the advice is to err on the side of discretion and loosen up slowly and cautiously.

Using Social Tools with Your Employees

The notion of social presents a problem for the conservative approach to management, in which managers and employees were considered to be two separate classes of people (like nobility and peasants, officers and enlisted, etc.) who were forbidden to be familiar with one another. While in the present day workers and management call one another by their given names, the notion of egalitarianism still has a long way to go.

Social tools are, at heart, communication tools, enabling people to communicate with one another - to refuse to use them is effectively a refusal to communicate with your people or allow them to communicate with one another. Some firms have even adopted social tools for official communications within the organization.

At the same time, recall that social media is open to viewing by others - possibly the general public, definitely others with whom you have networked with a given site - so there's some limitation to the kinds of information you can appropriately communicated to employees in public or semi-public forums.

Taken to extremes, security concerns can overemphasize the dangers of social media and make you reluctant to even touch them - but this is often melodrama, or a convenient excuse, depending on where it comes from. Some information is sensitive and should he handled carefully. Much is not.

Ultimately, you may need to become social to support the claim that you already are. Companies (and people) want to claim to be in-step with their customers and active in the social media, but many are not - and their hypocrisy rankles. Even if the company has an official Facebook page to do promotional messaging, the company is only as socially active (and socially adroit) as its people - if employees are not using social technology, then the company isn't.

The Dangers of Managing Employees Through Social Tools

An important distinction: using social tools to communicate to your people is not the same as using social tools to manage them. For most employees, most interaction with their manager is considered to a private matter, and can be a sensitive issue where minor slips can have a major impact to morale. For that reason, much "management" is still done face-to-face between manager and subordinate. Few managers can leverage private e-mail to effectively motivate and control their people, and it's not likely they will do any better via social media.

Sharing information and coordinating activities can generally be done in writing or electronically, as can any announcement that is made to a group of people rather than one person in particular. Some communications to an individual can be done electronically - though when dealing a subordinate, they are sensitive to your perception or opinion of an individual.

Because you are in a position to punish or reward, this is much more significant than the opinion of any peer or third party, so the content of your message is often secondary in importance to the emotional impact it has on a subordinate. As such, it's better to handle such communications face-to-face, where you can manage nonverbal cues (expression, tone of voice, etc.) and adapt if you sense a negative response - social media, e-mail, or even a written letter do not do that well.

Encouraging Your People to be Social

In addition to using social media yourself, you should encourage your people to use it, and give them specific goals to encourage them to use it for professional purposes. Many of them already are using social media for personal reasons, others may not understand it at all.

For example, you could suggest that salesmen simply create a specific number of connections through social networks, which gets them in the habit of connecting and considering how to leverage the channel. Alternately, you might be more specific, suggesting that a salesman who specializes in serving "major accounts" make connections with people at specific firms (people in a given department at fifty Fortune 500 companies) or a salesman who has one or two major accounts to add connections at those companies he specifically serves.

In setting goals, consider quality versus quantity. To connect to 500 people may be less valuable than connecting to five specific people in key positions. Requiring employees to blog may result in a large volume of boring, useless, and poorly-written content that does more harm than good. The outcome isn't merely to use social, but use it in a meaningful and productive way.

Some of the goals the author suggests setting are:

(EN: Some caution should be added here because people who seem to be begging for attention in social media develop a negative reputation, and setting volume goals can be damaging if a person is seen to be overly aggressive in connecting to others and promoting themselves.)

The author goes a step further, to suggest that participation in social media should be made a part of company's employee reviews, so that people have a financial incentive (or punishment) to participate in social media. He acknowledges "this might sound excessive" but given that social media is becoming so widespread, it's reasonable to suggest that, for certain positions, a person's skills in the social network and the reputation they build are assets to the company for which they work. Those who use social well should be rewarded, those who are inept should be encouraged to do better. It is especially important to make it clear to executive-level employees that they should leverage social media. Other positions where it makes sense are information technology, sales and marketing, customer service, and product management.

Onboarding and Helping Employees

Compared to past generations, workers in the current age change jobs and employers very frequently. The result of this is that most firms are staffed by employees who have a few years of experience at their current job, and by the time they are trained and acculturated, they move on to another job. Various attempts to retain workers for a longer period of time have had limited success, and as such management should seek tools that help them ramp up employees quickly, accepting that they will be with their firm for a very short time.

(EN: I checked with the IUS Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average tenure of workers is 4.1 years - heavily skewed because workers over 55 tend to have about 10 years tenure, whereas workers 25-34 have 3.1 years. Workers in the public sector have roughly twice the tenure as those in the private, and unskilled labor has roughly triple the median tenure of management and professional workers - except for food service workers, who are the absolute lowest.)

Also in regard to on-boarding employees, social should be considered basic communications equipment in the office. It seems illogical that companies ensure a new employee has a telephone and an e-mail address, as well as being given the company directory and being added to it as soon as possible, but do not give the same weight to social communication tools.

One of the factors that enables employees to be productive is knowledge of the people within their organization - little can be done until you are in touch with the right people. In this regard, social tools help people get to know their colleagues more quickly because it encourages direct communication and provides a richer set of tools to communicate.

An excellent way to recruit new talent who are skilled in using social media is to use social media to recruit. If a person is visible and even prominent in social channels, they already know how to leverage them, and chances are they have an existing network of professional connections.

(EN: The author doesn't mention this, but HR has been a laggard in technology adoption and still treats uses Internet in the same way the use newspaper advertising, posting a job opening and hoping that the right people show up. If you take a proactive approach to recruiting, making contacts and connections through social media, chances are you will find qualified candidates rather than hoping they find you - and if you're really adept at it, your network of contacts will include a number of people you'd like to hire if an opportunity arises.)

Setting Internal Policies and Guidelines

Company policies are available to the manages to enable them to encourage or discourage behavior. The lack of a written set of rules "can cause chaos" because each employee is left to decide form himself how to behave which can negatively impact the company as a whole. (EN: I'm a bit sickened by this. The perspective that employees are brainless dolts whose utter lack of common sense justifies management by threat is obsolete and offensive. Some of the ideas that follow are good, but the author latches on the wrong methodology. )

There follows a list of topics that a "social technology governance document" should address:

(EN: I meant to refrain, but a lot of the information above really blurs the line between areas of a life over which an employer can ethically and legally exercise control, and other areas in which they are intruding into private spaces. From the sound of it, employees of a draconian firm may need to create a separate account for "business use" - whether they should refrain from any mention of their employer online at all, even in private accounts, is arguable, and I don't think firms can have much control unless the situation is completely egregious.)