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HR Connection: Why you need to be a social executive

Many executives’ eyes glaze over as soon as another article appears featuring the words Twitter, blog, wiki, “viral” or other social media terms. However, executives should pay attention to what it means to be a social executive (social media savvy).Willoughby,-Mary

Social executives need to lead and set the tone, parameters and message for social media in their organizations to preserve company brand. Organizations are full of social employees but very few organizations are led by social executives.

Your employees are broadcasting information about your company continually through social media. Do you know the message that is being sent to your customers, potential customers, vendors, current and future employees, and the general public? Are the messages being sent through social media in alignment with your strategic plan, business plan, desired culture, and brand?

If your top executives do not have the skills or interest to lead the use of social media in your organization, there is a very good chance your company brand, reputation and culture will be driven by social employees, not the executives that will ultimately be accountable for the success or failure of the organization.

Social employees can be a real asset to the employer if senior executives have prepared and lead the social media campaign for the company. Collective intelligence comes into play with the messages that are being sent to the public about your company.

The term collective intelligence often brings to mind the image of one ant not being able to do an extraordinary task on its own but, as we know, ants often work together in large groups to accomplish extraordinary tasks. I am not suggesting employees are ants. I am suggesting employees may be the collective intelligence of your organization and are engaging in crowd sourcing, combined consensus and decision making that may not reflect the priorities or the message desired by the senior executives of your company.

Companies whose leaders are not leading the social movement in the company are risking the collective intelligence of non-executive level decision makers to present to the public their message, not yours.

Old-style communications, such as email, are being replaced by social media, which provides greater responsiveness to co-workers, customers, vendors and others with a greater personal touch.

One risk to the company results from social employees who have not been taught how to use social media for business purposes. The vast majority of college and university curricula do not include how to be an effective social employee and the proper use of social media in a business context.

Employees are applying their personal social media skills to their work life without any parameters regarding the company’s mission, culture or other company priorities. Customers, vendors, current and potential employees, board members and the community are viewing your company through the social employees’ communications.

What should executives do to assure the message the company wants in the public is the message that is being distributed by your social employees?

Executives need to become familiar with and use social media. Communicate your brand, message and goals to employees. Identify who in your company will lead the use of social media in each area of your company.

The company’s social media plan should be developed under the direction of senior level executives and communicated to all employees so the company’s message, brand, culture and goals are effectively communicated using social media both internally and externally. As a high level executive, the task of keeping up with the constant changes in social media may seem daunting.

That is why you develop a great plan for your company and then work with knowledgeable staff you have identified to develop social media polices and plans. Social media polices and plans should be continually communicated to all executives and employees so that employees will be sending consistent messages as determined by company executives using proper business use of social media.

It is important for social executives to be involved in social media monitoring. Monitoring certainly is not a primary task at the executive level but executives need to tune in occasionally. A wide variety of social media monitoring tools are available. Most social media monitoring tools “crawl” a large variety of websites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

Monitoring tools collect public not private information. As an example, a public Facebook page is searched by many monitoring tools but not a Facebook page with privacy settings enabled. There is a wide variety of information that can be gathered during monitoring and a variety of ways the information can be communicated to your company. Specific terms can be searched and automatic notifications can be sent to specific people when your company name pops up in non-private forms of social media.

Consult with monitoring experts to determine the best tools for your company. A note of caution: Be careful how the information that is collected is used. There can be negative legal ramifications for using information found on social media in making employment-related decisions. Consult legal counsel before making decisions about potential or current employees based on information that flows up to you through social media monitoring tools or by social media informants.

Executives must be at least as visible on social media as the company’s employees. Executives must develop social media competencies and set the tone for the organization to effectively drive the company brand. Make sure your employees know there is a plan. Make sure employees know how to use social media in a professional manor. Lead and monitor the company’s social media activity.

Mary Grattan Willoughby’s career has included top level executive roles in both the manufacturing and nonprofit sectors. Human resources, organization development, quality assurance and facilities management have been her key focus. Willoughby’s experience and education has allowed her to enjoy her passion for teaching. Willoughby has taught at a variety of local colleges but for the past few years has concentrated her teaching at Nazareth College in the business department teaching master’s level students enrolled in the graduate program for Human Resource Management. Additionally, Willoughby currently manages the HR Department for an 1,100 employee organization and is responsible for the company’s four facilities located in Western New York. She holds a bachelor of science in Organization Management and a master of science in Human Resource Development. This article is brought to you by the Rochester affiliate of the National HR Association, a local professional HR organization focused on advancing the career development, planning and leadership of HR professionals.

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