Many companies are intrigued by the concept of social media, but have no idea how to actually integrate it into business practices. In an earlier post, we explored one approach to putting a simple social media plan in place.
Changing employee behavior is challenging, and social media participation is often looked at as an additional burden rather than leveraged to improve the efficiency of a current task. Unless traditional communications are replaced with social media infused conversations though, it's difficult to seed corporate adoption of these new tools.
Here's a list to stimulate ideas for better social media integration into traditional business practices, which we've broken down by department:
Introducing New Employees. Many companies ask new hires to send an email introduction to their department or to the entire company (depending on its size). Instead, start an internal blog or social network where new employees can post their introductions and connect with other employees that share their interests. Dow Chemical is one large company that launched an internal social network.
Employee Newsletters. Replace the monthly employee newsletter with regular updates to an internal blog. Use tags or keywords to categorize the content, which gives employees a searchable database of information about the company rather than a folder full of emails that are cumbersome to review. Then when employees contact HR with questions about 401(k) contributions or sick days, direct them to the appropriate post on the blog. Employees can also pose questions and HR will be able to answer them once for everyone to see.
Training. Depending on your business, consider leveraging one of many virtual world environments for training purposes. For a business that deals with customers, create a replica of your store or office where new employees can engage in a variety of real world scenarios, from responding to customer questions to learning where to find inventory and supplies.
Sales Collateral. An internal wiki allows sales teams scattered in various locations to create, collect, share and download the most updated sales material from one location. By limiting the exchange of PowerPoint presentations, product sell sheets and other support collateral to one place, management eliminates a significant amount of heavy email storage and ensures everyone has access to the most updated information in real time as well as improves the ability to track edits and updates by team members.
Lead generation. Many business people create profiles on popular social networking sites like LinkedIn. However, few use it for more than a contact database. Sales teams can leverage their vast network of contacts to generate sales leads, secure new business introductions and demonstrate industry knowledge. Sales managers can incorporate social networking challenges into sales goals.
Management Communications. An internal blog run by the sales leads is an ideal platform for team communications. To ensure participation, ask each sales team member to leave a comment confirming they read the post.
Public Relations. With an external facing corporate blog, the communications team can engage its publics (customers, media, analysts or other audiences) in brand conversations. Blogs can extend the conversation beyond the press release, provide a platform for thought leadership, and in the case of a crisis, prove an invaluable channel for direct community communications.
Interactive Newsroom. Create an interactive newsroom where traditional media and bloggers can find links to the company's social presence. This may include high resolution product photos hosted on Flickr, a link to the company's Twitter profile, a bundle of RSS feeds for the company's blogs, a searchable repository of podcasts, or even social profiles for media contacts (AIM/Skype/Avatar).
Better Customer Engagement. Several companies, including Starbucks and Dell, have created social networks where customers can provide direct feedback on products and services as well as interact with each other. This two way channel allows for improved customer relations and a much quicker feedback loop with the company's most loyal customers. Even in the B2B space, a blog or social network created exclusively for a specific customer set demonstrates a commitment to customer service and illustrates your company's efforts to get as close to your customer as possible.
Thought leadership. A CEO can submit an op-ed piece to the Wall Street Journal or Inc., but those opportunities are few and far between. Supplement traditional thought leadership pieces with a monthly or quarterly podcast, where employees can discuss industry trends and company views to a wider audience. These podcasts also become sales engagement tools and can be posted to internal employee blogs as well. And you don't have to be a big company to host a successful podcast, as this example illustrates.
Customer Support. A staple of many technology companies, support forums are searchable threads of conversations where engineers or product designers can answer questions and help troubleshoot issues. The best part is that once a question is answered, the link to the discussion thread can be shared with others who have the same question, eliminating duplicate efforts.
Product Prototypes. Creating prototypes is an expensive endeavor for many businesses. Furthermore, it's difficult to share prototypes with teams spread out around the world. Virtual worlds allow for teams to collaborate in real time with 3D models, which are less expensive to create and easier to discuss during the development phase.
Innovation. An internal platform where engineers or designers are encouraged to share their most outrageous ideas, pet projects, or passions often helps foster creativity. This in turn leads to new products and a greater sense of community at every level of the company.
There are many more ideas than just those listed here. If you have tips on how your company uses social media to improve productivity or otherwise improve the flow of information between groups, please share them in the comments.