Ed Terperning (@edterpening) is a Plein Air Artist and social media analyst at the Altimeter Group. He recently coauthored a new report titled Social Media Education for Employees with Charlene Li (@charleneli) which details how organizations reduce social media risk and activate employee advocacy programs at scale through internal social media training programs for employees, motivating employees to complete on-demand courseware, resources required to keep social media training courses current.
In this exclusive interview (also available as an audio podcast) Ed talks to social media training provider Eric Schwartzman (@ericschwartzman) about the four different types of social media education programs, managing risks through social media policy training, social media training formats and modalities, dealing with the challenges of keeping social media training courses up to date, strategies for knowledge transfer assessment and much more.
Eric: Who needs to be trained and what do they need to be trained on?
Ed: We’ve identified through our research, four different roles that require training.
All employees need some level of social media training because they have to understand the boundaries between personal use of social media and business use.
There are boundaries there that can be dangerous to cross inappropriately.
People tweeting about work in inappropriate ways or brands that conflict. That’s the first type is company wide social media training.
The second type is introduction to social media training and that has broader impact. These might be employees that have been certified to speak on behalf of the company on social media. They could be scattered throughout the organization, but typically they are in public relations or marketing. They might even be in investor relations or in another area where a company needs a voice within social.
The third type is training for social media practitioners. Those are the folks on social media teams. They’re dedicated to social. They might be running social strategies, they might be blogging, creating other content, managing content, moderating communities and so on. It’s a much deeper level of training, because it’s your day job.
Finally, there’s social media executive education, and that’s for a number of reasons. One is, most leaders when they are presented with social marketing plans, they’re not sure what to make of them, they’re not sure how to invest, or how much to invest in social.
Part of the education for leaders is, “How can social impact my business? What are some case studies? How that can happen? How should I think about social as a business tool?”
Along with that, the fourth type of education is for leadership, which involves just bringing them up to speed. The typical chief executive is not that ingrained in social media. It may not be part of their day to day life. It is important that they understand at least how it can be used as a business tool.
Eric: Your report on social media education found that more than half of organizations that you queried have been dealing with at least one violation of their employer’s social media policy. Why is the percentage so high?
Ed: Actually, I think that’s low. Some of the companies we spoke to didn’t really know how many violations they had, and the reasons for that might be that the violation occurred within a walled community. It might have been within a private online group where the violation occurred, so the company is not able to discover it.
But to answer your question, it is a big number, it is a big percentage because social media is just part of everybody’s everyday life, and what happens is in your personal life it is often overlaps with business.
You talk about where you work, what are you doing, the kinds of work you are doing, nature of the work you are doing, and sometimes some of that expression of work life can just breathes into the business world and really have an impact.
A lot of policies we see, a lot of the education we see is trying to teach the everyday employee what the boundaries are, so they understand the risk that their participation presents and how to manage that.
Simple things like you accept friend requests from the clients and customers and what are the implications about if you do that. It is that type of the basic knowledge that we think is important in avoiding those kinds of violations.
Eric: So, you are saying that this sort of the social media policy training is for all employees social media training is something that everybody needs, but with time off the job and number one cost of training, how do draw the line between what they really need to know and what they don’t need to know, and talk to us a little bit about just how extensive this all‑hands‑on‑deck social media policy training should be?
Ed: At least anywhere from 20 minutes to up to 40, 45 minutes, and it really depends on the nature of the business.
For example, heavily‑regulated industries like financial services, healthcare, telecommunications. They tend to have much deeper social media policies and much more comprehensive social media policies and what that means is that your training has to reflect that and test against it, so training for regulated industries would be more extensive.
So, really it depends on the nature of the business. There is some businesses we work with that already have a social media policy and they don’t have as much of a problem, because maybe they are a brand that’s name that is well known or the typical employee has less access to information that would be a detriment to release publicly, through social media.
It runs that sort of gamut.
Eric: The report says, “Employees should be prepared for the inevitable gray areas created by the fast changing social media space.” Can you give us some examples of what those gray areas might be?
Ed: Sure, and that is why our training really focuses on building judgment skills and not facts.
When presented with a social media policy, typically we don’t test on which is true or false. It is more of presenting real life work situations, so that an employee can then build skills and learn those.
I’ll give you an example, this is a concept of course in social media, a friendly meeting or following someone. When you follow someone on twitter, you create an association with that person and it is actually a kind of endorsement, right?
If you are following a brand or an individual, that is a way of endorsing that person or brand. The same on Facebook. When you follow someone, or subscribe to someone post, you create that endorsement of that connection.
Now what’s happening though is that there are more and more social media tools coming about, and some of them call this association a friend, or a connection, or a follower, all of those things, all those types of words are used to create those connections.
What we think of as important in training is talk about the high level concepts of following or connecting and the implications of those, so that as new tools come about, because there are new tools all the time, because there are new social media tools popping up all the time.
You can’t really train an employee on every tool, so you have to train about concepts and judgment so they can apply sound judgment skills to any new tool or situation that might come about.
Eric: In the Art of War, the famous book by Sun Tzu, it says, “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Are you suggesting that the only people you follow are the people who you agree with?
Ed: If this is the business context, you know the rules really vary and differ based on industry. If you are in the banking industry and you’re an investment adviser you’re what’s called a regulated user and anything you do in public comes under scrutiny of regulated bodies like FINRA and other financial service regulations.
So, for example, if you heard it as a regulated user accepted and endorsed it on Linkedin, for example, if you had a great relationship with a client and that client endorses you.
Go ahead and try to endorse something, you are creating an opinion that’s legally binding so for example you’re an investment adviser and you endorse or somehow connect to, I don’t know, a public company that you might be covering as part of your job.
You have to be really, really careful about that, because you can set up this environment where your endorsing something, and it may not be really an endorsement you may just want to follow them, you may just want to understand their point of view. Your regulators often take the stance that it’s a type of endorsement even though you are just following someone.
Eric: How are employers assessing the effectiveness of the social media education programs?
Ed: Yeah, typically, unfortunately, it’s fairly high level. They typically look at participation numbers. So, for example, 72% of those that we queried on this question all looked at participation numbers. We think that more advanced brands like dell and some others, they’re really looking at the outcome of participation in social media.
So, for example, on the risk side, are they reducing the number of incidents reported and the policy violations and then, on the opportunity side, are they seeing advocacy driven by that employees are they generating more follows to their brand page based on that employees activities.
We tend to think that it should be much more complex that simple participation numbers, but really look at what is the level of activity both positive and negative that occurs as the result of the education itself.
Eric: What about just simple assessments? Giving some sort of multiple choice test afterwards?
Ed: That’s common, 24% of the companies that we queried said that they use final test scores as a way to judge success beyond participation.
Eric: Ed, what is the role of HR in the social media training process and at what point should employees be introduced to social media training?
Ed: Well, we think that employees should be introduced to social media training on day one. So, one of the things we advocate with our clients is they make it part of the employee on‑boarding process with new team members. Right from day one they should introduce social media and what the constraints are and any empowerment that employees might have in social media.
So we think that it starts on day one. In terms of HR’s (human resources) role it’s interesting, there generally not at the forefront of bringing social media training into the organization.
That tends to be marketing and communications and social media team itself tends to be involved and what we’ve seen is HR tends to be more of an enabler, so because HR typically manages learning and development for most large companies, they own the social media platforms, the contracts, the providers, training providers and so on. They really play a role that’s more of a facilitator. Of course the broader role for HR is really on policy.
So because HR generally owns social media policy or in a varying form of facilitator policy it’s really important to have HR at the table during the development of training programs because you have to make sure the policy is reinforced and training and that it aligns with the legal goals that HR is trying to achieve with various training programs.
Eric: What are the unique characteristics of an organization that gets it and is not resistant to enterprise‑wide training?
Ed: Typically, company-wide social media training lags about three years the creation of social media teams or structures within organizations and that’s for all four types of training from all employees to leadership.
So the typical company that understands is actually much further along the social media maturity curve. Altimeter has identified seven levels of social media maturity and one of the levels is called engagement and that’s where the brand or the business has a social media page, their publishing, but it tends to be very silo.
When we see the types of companies that really have a well thought out social media strategy are in the next phase of social media maturity and that is the phase where their scaling social media across the company and they are being much more strategic about social media. They’re not looking at social media as silos around products or regions or very narrow areas, they’re looking at social business and social media as a broad business tool.
Some of the companies that we cite in our report that are at that level are companies like Dell, and Intel, and Cisco, that have been practicing social media for some time and are now able to really create the kind of education programs that are needed to scale social media across the company, and take it out of little silos within the company itself and making it more of a broad basis tool.
Eric: In your report, you mention Aetna, Kaiser Permanente and Radio Shack. Are there any unique characteristics about those organizations that make them different from the rest of the organizations that are still trying to look social media as an extension of their marketing programs?
Ed: Aramark is another one that might be surprising to you that really has a handle on this. Radio Shack as well. I guess their characteristics are that they’ve reached the point in their maturity in social business that they have a strategic plan for the company overall, and that enables them to do training consistently across the company because they have a strategy that the entire company is working towards.
I think the other thing that we see in common with companies that are much more mature in this area is governance. Governance meaning they have the policy, the people, the processes, the guidelines, the education programs, all of that to govern the strategic use of social media across the company.
I think those are two very big indicators, typically if the company has a broad strategic vision that goes out a couple of years and it’s really run wide across the company, and that they have governance in place to manage social effectively. Typically, in those companies, no matter what industry they’re in, you’ll find that they have a decent social media education program.
Eric: All right, it used to be that the road to social media greatness was littered with skeletons, and I think about the “Dell Hell” example and the exploding batteries, and of course they rushed into social media and did a great job with it, but it was not without a lot of pain before they got there. Do you see that happening as well here? Is it those companies that have some high‑profile misfire that humbles them who are the first to the table?
Ed: Well, it does seem that a crisis will often instigate the two team aspects that I spoke about, which is having a company‑wide strategy and having governance in place. So in some cases, and there have been other cases in other brands where a crisis has instigated it, I think that can be another one of the early indicators, absolutely.
Eric: Classroom training is effective because you have to go to a room and sit through a class, but given that it’s also expensive and impractical when it comes to training large employee populations, and given that teaching new skills is so important in the digital age, how do you motivate employees to complete on‑demand course ware?
Ed: Actually, most of the clients we’ve worked with, it’s a mandatory requirement, so at least for all employee policy training, it’s like sexual harassment or any other kind of training program where it’s simply a requirement for your job. I think the trickier…if you look at the spectrum, the practitioners all want training, there really isn’t anything you need to do to motivate them because it’s their job and they want to excel at it.
I think where it gets tricky is leadership. So leadership, they’re often embarrassed to say that they don’t use social, they’re not on LinkedIn or Twitter, but yet they’re asked to make decisions every day, and many of them about “what should we think about social for our business? Should we invest in it? How much should we invest? What does that look like?”
So I think the leadership and the executives are the most difficult to bring to the table.
And some of the successful programs that we’ve seen, that we write about in our report, are reverse mentoring, where you pair up a leader with a social media practitioner and you tailor a reverse mentoring role of that person where you bring them up to speed in a way that fits their schedule, that fits their need for admitting that they don’t know something without doing so in a big classroom full of folks.
And really, we’re respecting their role as decision makers, including deciding the role that social media plays in their business.
Eric: The report says 56 percent of the companies you surveyed are developing their own trainings internally. Given that the mechanics of social networks change so frequently and that best practices are still developing, what kind of resources are required to keep that sort of courseware current and relevant?
Ed: It’s a really tough investment decision to do that. I think, from what I’ve seen, first of all, is that most companies can only afford to update their social media policy training program once a year, because that’s typically on an annual cycle when it comes to policy. The other courses, like the practitioner development, those are often updated much more frequently, once a quarter.
So when it comes to…in terms of an FTE, I don’t know that we…yeah, we did have some data on that. Half of companies that we spoke to only have one FTE to manage social media education, and so that’s year‑round on the policy, all kinds of education programs.
And there are a number of part‑time SMEs, subject matter experts, that have to be queried during the year, to reflect changes in Facebook or Twitter or new social platforms that companies want to test against. 52 percent have at least one part‑time or full‑time employee managing social media education.
Eric: Ed, final question, talk to us for a second about modality when it comes to the “all‑hands‑on‑deck” social media policy training, what are the best delivery formats for that type of a training?
Ed: Well, for scale, it pretty much has to be online, interactive, right? So we typically see the online courses in platforms that are used for other purposes. For example, ethics training or harassment training or other training platforms like that, programs like that.
Typically, in order to build judgment skills, what we try to do and what we thinks works best is that the training program must really reflect the everyday challenges of that business. Presenting to the student real‑life work situations, you’re in a meeting with a colleague and you’re talking about something and social media comes up, describing those real‑life work scenarios and then building judgment cases around them.
Which is why I think it’s challenging to create social media training, because first of all it’s based completely on the policy, which differs. There is a lot of commonality in terms of social media policy across companies, but they do differ between companies.
It’s not easy, you’ve got to have the policy accurately represented within the training, and then you have to present real‑life work situations that test for judgment skills and build judgment skills for a medium, as you say, that changes so quickly.
So again, if a student is faced with a new situation, a new tool, and they start building connections, endorsements, or doing other things, they understand the high‑level concepts that drive social media, where the risks and opportunities are and how to manage them.