Businesses and Integrating Social Media

imageA year or so ago, I wrote this to help managers in mid-sized companies  understand the best ways to train employees on how to use social media to interact with customers.  Clearly, I suck at the subject so take it as a outsiders view point. 

Before using social media, most employees generally want training on how to engage customers, especially if they grew up pre-internet or don’t use it personally.  The most preferred way individual training.  Unfortunately, in most companies this scales poorly.  There is so much turnover that it is expensive to keep everyone up to date with newest networks, let alone how to use Facebook or Instagram.  It also limits the learner to established practices.  This limits their options and discourages them from exploring new ways to communicate with customers.

Many companies fallback to webinar training, but this is usually a terrible medium for learning complex ideas.  This type of training often take the worst aspects of traditional classroom learning such as being a passive listener and having to attend at a fixed time.  Add to that a student needs to stare at PowerPoint slides on a tiny 17” screen while listening through tinny speakers it a wonder that anyone would attend unless forced. 

There is still a place individualized training and webinars but other options work better.  Some of the best idea come from podcasters and YouTube video bloggers.  Many are entrepreneurs with their livelihoods at stake.  Therefore, most tend to be focused on increasing attendance.  Here is what they many successful ones do:

1. Keep the message short and focused. 

People find the best training sessions are up to 5 minutes long.  Studies show that people on phones watch training sessions for about 3 minutes and tablets/computers for 5 minutes. 

Short lengths help keep people’s attention.  More short content offers increases the likelihood of covering something people need simply by chance. 

Serialization provides more excuses to publicize content.  This is similar to how tweets aren’t often about the content.  They are about keeping the message in the front of the consumer.

The problem is that short content is often harder to do.  Instructors spend more working a 3-minute speech than an hour-long one.  This increases quality.

Percentage of video watchedviewingpercentageSource:

  1. Make highlight reels.

Take snippets the important ideas from long-form content and post it on the content intranet.  This is common in the public policy sphere.  A creator will make an hour-long video, take snippets out, and post the best parts as short form content.  Some will even create separate short pieces and condense the material still further (sort of like an ad or highlight reel.)  

  1. Practice just-in-time learning.

Because most businesses are cyclical, create and publicize content when learners need it, during peak times of the year.  For instance, at a bank, more employees will want to give savings advice during tax season.  

  1. Ask questions before producing content.

Participation is higher in session where employees know it will cover something they are interested in learning.  In a hour+ long training, few people ask questions.  Sessions cause mental fatigue, especially those in remote locations when the temptation to answer emails or play solitaire is strong.

Gathering feedback before production gives the trainer an idea of what people want to know.  It also gives time for people to think about what they want to learn.

  1. Market it.

Content is worthless if no one knows it exists, market it.  Ideally, there should be multiple posts per week about how to do things cycled on the intranet.  Even if it is a repeat, post it.  Few employees will know that it is a repeat and even if they do, there is no harm with a little refresh. 

  1. Build a community.

If the company is really serious about using the internet to communicate with customers, build a internal community.  Make it a one stop shop.  Start by adding all available training and links to corporate social media presences.  Next, have employees write about personal experiences.  Make this a user listening post.  Use forums, surveys, Q&A, and anything to keep interest.  This will also help trainers and experts by giving a single place for research.

  1. Be passionate.

Nothing is more boring than listening someone reading a script or going through the motions.  If it is boring to the poster, imagine what it like for others.  Training should be interesting to the trainer firstly.  Otherwise, it is not worth doing.

  1. Use multiple mediums.

People learn in different ways, so it is important to mix up training by using multiple mediums such as live training, audio, webinars, videos, blog post, LinkedIn requests, etc.  Together with many short pieces, this has several benefits:

  • Helps to track what works for the audience.
  • Risk of failure is lower, so it allows trainers more freedom to experiment. 
  • Allow for creation of meta-training.  This means creating categories of training based ideas and not on the content type.  Some of the better MOOCs do this.

Use video and live feeds and examples to liven the presentation.  When using video, produce audio and text versions of content.  Despite MTV mantra, video didn’t kill the radio star.  The great aspect of audio is learners can multitask (think audio books.)  Short posts are great to drive traffic to existing content and offer bite sized training to boot.  Post snippets from live training sessions can help reinforce ideas.

9.  Test your audience.

Short quizzes or surveys after the content can reinforce content.  Even if the content is short, ask questions after it to reinforce the material and to gather feedback on how well the content was conveyed.

10.  Be Committed

The weakest part of an social media strategy is management.  Most C-level executive want to engage customers online, but don’t put resources into help employee do it.  The results is lackluster with many employees jumping in at the start and two months in the effort is forgot about, to the detriment of the customer base. 

Nor do many engagement their employees or customers to provide an example.  Without this engagement, interest will wane.

Choosing Collaboration Software, Its Not a Technology Problem

yahoo groups no reflectionOne thing that I love about my job is that I’m on the lead end of some interesting projects.   Most of what I do, fails at first, but that rarely prevent me from having fun deciding doing it.

The main problem with these projects, especially at the beginning and tail ends of them is communications.  I started my career in the early 90s using three electronic communications tools, something to write documents in, something to enter numbers in and email.  Even 20 years later, I am still using Word, Excel, and email as the main methods of electronic communications.

Now the world has more tools, but few have replaced these time tested methods.   Now I’m looking into collaboration software and ways to integrate it into my division’s workflows. Now, collaboration software is nothing but a fancy term for software akin to Facebook at Work.  In the past, I have used a great many of these tools such as Yahoo Groups, Google Drive, Ning, Chatter, and even when I had to Microsoft SharePoint.

Most failed to work. The reasons are generally not technical but social.  Emailing a Word document is so damn easy.  If your going to attempt some like this at work or to get your friends involved in a community, remember these lessons:

  1. People over technology.  Generally group projects fail because the technology choice overrides how to get people to actually use the new tool.  Technology is rather unimportant so take a day or two and window shop for a product that is good enough and not perfect.  Spend the rest of the time harassing users into actually using the tool.
  2. People like to be told what to do.  This is why email is so awesome.  A user doesn’t need to do anything except fire up Outlook and wait for a report to come rolling in.  The problem with collaboration tools is that is requires effort on the part of the user to actually go out and look up the information (know as pull.)  People would rather have it pushed to them, even if the information is irrelevant and deleted it without being read.  To get around that, you need to make it the go to place to do their job, like a fashionable clubbing spot.  (I sometimes do this by shutting down the old tool, but that is playing dirty.)  Just be ready to field the inevitable complaints.
  3. People rather lurk than work.  Unless it is a small tightly knit community, you will have 9 lurkers for every one person enthusiastic enough to post.  Scale is the key.  Get as many people online as quickly as possible since few people want to be first poster.  Choose seeders if possible, especially managers or others with high status.  This will help kick start the community.
  4. People rarely see the need for new technology, until it becomes old technology.  A recent case in point is smartphones.  Dozens of people I spoke with never could figure out a reason they needed one.  Now most can’t put them down even when your talking with them.  Any communications software from chatter to IM to texting goes against the tried and true email.  You need to break people away by offering better content and relentless train to cut down on the learning curve.