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THE SOCIAL EMPLOYEE
How Great Companies Make Social Media Work
By CHERL BURGESS, MARK BURGESS
McGraw-Hill EducationCopyright © 2014 Cherl Burgess and Mark Burgess
All rights reserved.
The New Normal–Even Change Is Changing
The whole world has gone social.
Well, perhaps that's not entirely true. As far as the human race is concerned, the world has always been social. Humankind, after all, would not have lasted very long if early societies hadn't adapted a spirit of collaboration, common purpose, and shared destiny. We are inescapably and inextricably linked together. We rely on these connections for just about everything, from interactions as simple as checking in with loved ones to activities as complex and multifaceted as coordinating social revolutions. We can no longer ignore the fact that social media platforms have fundamentally rewired the way we build relationships in the digital village.
While going social in itself may be nothing new, the nature of the term keeps changing. Each new interpretation manages to redefine the nature of change itself. Even change is changing, it would appear, and it continues to change so rapidly that it has become the only constant in a business environment driven by its need to accurately project the present into the future.
A fundamental assumption of marketing over the last century has been that brands were not only able to anticipate the changes new technologies and innovations would bring, but that it was their responsibility to drive those changes. Today, save for a few of the more prescient brands, businesses are still struggling to accept the idea that social networking platforms can—and do—offer a myriad of solutions designed to increase productivity and reduce costs.
The sense of urgency surrounding the role of social media in business continues to grow. Many brands have come to accept that social media is the way of the future, yet most don't know how to take the first step in getting there. A deluge of books have appeared in the last few years to help guide businesses through this transitional period. All of these books were written by some of the most prominent thought leaders in the marketing community. They cite a wealth of research to demonstrate the ways a properly structured social business can not only bolster a company's bottom line, but also help produce a culture of engaged brand ambassadors ready to shepherd their brand's identity into the modern age.
This book benefits tremendously from the groundbreaking works of these authors. In the following chapters, we hope to add to the conversation with an in-depth exploration of what social business in practice looks like, and how these models affect employees on an individual level. We accept as fact the idea that social business is no longer just a good idea—it's the reality of the modern brand. To put it bluntly, companies risk extinction if they aren't having internal discussions about what social business might mean for their organizations as well as for their employees. The well-documented falls from grace of cherished, long-lived companies like Kodak and Hostess have demonstrated that every brand is vulnerable in the digital age.
The Social Employee: Coming to a Workplace Near You
If the stakes sound high, that's because they are! Businesses that fail to adapt will lose the race to capture the modern brand's most valuable asset, and the subject of this book: the social employee.
Many reading this book may be wondering: Why have we chosen to put so much emphasis on the social employee as an individual? Is it arrogant—perhaps even idealistic—to think that the contributions of individuals can have so much cumulative value for businesses, from the smallest start-up to the largest multinational corporation? Perhaps, but we'd like to think that we're simply observing a growing awareness in the marketplace, and putting a name to a very real phenomenon.
Our friend and expert analyst Mark Fidelman put it best when he said, "The new workforce wants, even demands, to work for a social business. If you want to hire the best talent (especially the best young talent) you must demonstrate that you are a social business." The reality that we're seeing today is one in which the social employee and the social business is a package deal. Even in our relatively flat economy, companies are coming to the realization that today's workers expect more out of their employers than just a steady paycheck.
According to the data of recent employee interviews collected by Forbes in an article titled "10 Reasons Your Top Talent Will Leave You," the divide between employee and employer is reaching dangerous levels:
* Over 40 percent don't respect their superiors.
* Over 60 percent don't feel their career goals align with their current job trajectories.
* Perhaps most telling of all, over 70 percent don't feel appreciated or valued by their employer.
These statistics don't bode well for employers. High turnover rates only consume precious time and resources—commodities that no brand can afford to waste in the current economic landscape. Of course, time and resources aren't even the greatest commodities at stake—the employee is. Companies that fail to activate their employees in the social era don't just risk losing their workers, they risk losing their best workers.
With this in mind, activating employees around a brand is not just a matter of employee retention, but rather a matter of unlocking an employee's hidden talents. Social business models do much more than improve culture within a brand; they bring the many and varied employee skill sets and areas of expertise to the forefront—traits essential for driving both disruptive innovation and productivity.
This kind of thinking in the social era must comprise the DNA of a brand's fundamental principles. As contradictory as it may sound, a brand must first set its sights internally in order to build trust in the marketplace and ultimately bolster its bottom line. According to Jennifer Aaker, General Atlantic professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business and coauthor of The Dragonfly Effect, "You're finding stronger brands are built inside out where the brand inside is so powerful, and then eventually that is disseminated to customers such that when customers hear about some brand action, it's easier to trust that brand."
We call this process employee branding. The more faith a brand puts in its employees, the more willing those employees are to represent their brands in public spaces and drive profits. We asked our friend David Aaker, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and vice chairman at Prophet, what the term employee branding meant to him.
Employee branding means getting your employees to know what the brand stands for and cares about. One test is to pose these two questions to a sample of employees: (1) What does your brand stand for? and (2) Do you care? If the answers are not forthcoming, you have little chance of brand building, creating on-brand programs, and avoiding inconsistencies in customer touch points.
As social media continues to grow in complexity, no public space is more important than the digital frontier. The social employee can offer a window into a brand's soul, driving a brand's reputation to new heights through rich engagement and authentic representation. Throughout the following chapters, we will explore what this new kind of employee looks like, the conditions in which they expect to work, and the need for strong leadership to define and build a culture that enables these employees to not simply succeed, but to thrive. But in order to get there, we must first take a closer look at the current business climate in which we find ourselves.
The Paradox of Change
For brands that haven't quite put the pieces of the social jigsaw puzzle together, the unknowns inherent in change seem to be lurking around every corner, waiting to spring out and render those brands' best laid plans entirely obsolete. In a 2012 blog post, John Hagel, cochairman at the Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation, acknowledges the sometimes bewildering nature of change, but points out that even within change, people can define constants to guide them through the process. "My advice based on the experience that I have accumulated over the years: decide what isn't going to change, especially in three key domains: principles, purpose, and people."
We find no small coincidence in the fact that these three domains also account for the most essential pillars for success in social business. Hagel believes these traits fuel "the passion of the explorer," acting as a north star, so to speak, as a person sets sail for unknown destinations. It's not difficult to see how Hagel's concepts of change can be applied to modern branding practices. As we explored the experiences of social employees at several leading brands, these themes cropped up continually. We believe they mark the essential difference between playing at social business and actually being a social business.
Hagel also stresses that, when a person sets sail under the flag of change, that person can't—and shouldn't—know their precise destination. Brands should absolutely establish the working conditions for their social journeys, but they should plan to be surprised by a series of new discoveries along the way. To Hagel, explorers have "a clear and unwavering commitment to a domain of action that defines the arena [they] intend to play and grow in. That domain will undoubtedly evolve rapidly, often experiencing disruptive change, and the boundaries of the domain are likely to change over time." Applying this idea to social business, we can interpret the "arena" Hagel describes as one that arises out of a brand's mission, vision, and values—elements that must be championed by every employee in a company, from the C-Suite down to the summer intern.
It's clear that the journey toward building a business full of engaged, considerate employees cannot be made overnight. We can't know where exactly this journey will take us, but we can expect to be profoundly changed throughout the process. We asked our friend, social media guru Simon Mainwaring, how brands can expect to plot their course on the social journey:
There is no map to follow or destination to seek other than the one companies set for themselves. They must be their own compass in a fast changing marketplace or leave themselves open to feeling overwhelmed or simply broadcasting their schizophrenia. So brands must chart a course based on their purpose, core values, and vision for what they will offer the world and bring that to life consistently across new media, channels, and marketing.
The course toward social business may not always be a clear one, but it will shape every aspect of business operations in the coming decades. As Mark Fidelman explains: "The skills needed to succeed today are not being taught in the workplace, high schools, or colleges, as they were in previous ages. Instead, they are learned through experimentation, which yields both big mistakes and stunning successes."
Whether in success or failure, the consumer world is watching. The experiences consumers have are ultimately what will justify a brand's existence. The way a brand presents itself to the public reflects the way it takes care of itself internally. The social brand takes this philosophy to heart and understands that the best way to present a unified front is through impassioned individual effort.
So, before we set sail on this great adventure, it's important to understand the nature of the seas on which we'll be traveling. How exactly are brands positioned in this burgeoning social age, what challenges confront them, and what preconceptions must they shed before allowing themselves to jump into the fray and champion social employee culture (see Figure 1.1)?
Losing Control: A Brand's Greatest Fear
Throughout history, times of transition have always yielded an unfortunate by- product: fear. This is not to say that all fear is bad—expressing one's concerns is an essential part of doing business—but rather that fear's value is limited. It should inform a brand's decisions moving forward, but it should not dominate the conversation. Too much fear can prevent us from moving forward at all. When this happens, fear is no longer serving us, but rather we are serving fear. In an era where even the nature of change itself continues to change, the consequences of inaction through fear are simply too great.
Brands incapable of understanding the social era or unwilling to adapt to its demands will inevitably find that they no longer have any say in determining their own public image. They will slowly come to understand that they have lost control of their brand identities, an essential cornerstone of a successful business. Worse than the loss itself, though, is the fact that these brands won't understand how it happened.
In reality, brands lost control—or at least lost sole proprietorship—of their brand identities the moment social media platforms became integrated into our daily lives. The most innovative brands unafraid of the new social frontier willingly ceded control of their identities. They saw the writing on the wall: today's brands cocreate their images with their customers because they understand the ways social media has dramatically amplified the customer's voice. As Dion Hinchcliffe and Peter Kim say in Social Business by Design, "Influence and power are inexorably flowing into everyone's hands now that all individuals have access to equally powerful tools for self-expression." Users can leverage social media to describe their brand experiences with their networks—both the good and the bad. And they love to share. A recent (and already frequently referenced) study by the Nielsen Company, a global leader in cutting-edge market research, found that 90 percent of consumers trust the opinions of friends in their network more than they trust any other source.
No matter what, users are going to share their opinions on various brands as a natural extension of their social experience. The question is whether the brand will make itself available to be a part of these conversations or not. An absent brand has no chance of defending itself or reconciling an issue with a customer unless it ensures that it has a stable, authentic online presence.
The brand that joins in these conversations and shares in these experiences—whether good or bad—stands to gain a great deal in public esteem. In fact, the public's ultimate verdict on a brand often hinges specifically on how a brand responds to different social media scenarios. Brands have a choice to either use customer feedback constructively or ignore it and let the conversation continue without their input. In considering the latter, a brand still learning to navigate the social realm of the digital bazaar should remember that ignoring a problem doesn't make it go away, but instead makes it grow even bigger. In these types of situations, brands must be prepared to let their employees act as brand ambassadors, reaching out to customers authentically and in a spirit of goodwill.
Building a Collaborative Mindset
As Don Tapscott said in his 2012 TED Talk, "To me this is not an information age. It's an age of networked intelligence." This distinction is important, because the latter aspect of Tapscott's binary encourages organic collaboration and data sharing. This mindset first took hold on the consumer end, with casual users looking for new ways to connect with their friends. It soon extended to business. Now, many brands are benefitting from practical solutions to old problems through the collaboration tools offered by both internal and external social networking platforms.
The implications for this new approach to information sharing and collaboration affect every human discipline—from the sciences to the arts—and therefore they affect every industry as well. One interesting result of this process is the new blurring of disciplines. Skilled media specialists are finding new ways to combine science with art, data with design, or business with pleasure—all in exciting, innovative ways. To see this in play, one need look no further than some of the current buzzwords swarming around today's marketing principles. Current popular thinking stipulates that the best measure of a brand is its "character," or its "authenticity," words once reserved exclusively for the creative realm. This begs the question: If brands do indeed depend on these kinds of intangibles, how do they produce the necessary results? Simple: by telling a story!
Excerpted from THE SOCIAL EMPLOYEE by CHERL BURGESS, MARK BURGESS. Copyright © 2014 Cherl Burgess and Mark Burgess. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill Education.
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