6 tips for a successful social media training program

Don’t set employees loose on social media before training them. Keep these tips in mind as you build your program.

Companies usually undertake social media training to prevent future problems. Most companies build programs to ensure employees will understand what to do with negative comments or know how to behave in a crisis. That is important and necessary work.

However, successful social media training should extend much further than a discussion on how to prevent problems. It should aim higher and show employees how to identify and develop relationships with online advocates that could support a company’s business and marketing objectives.

The ideal social media training session will help participants better understand the significant differences between social media platforms; learn how to engage and share with their desired audiences; and build or extend meaningful, professional friendships.

Here are six training best practices:

1. Define materials for individual participants.

To save money, some companies make the mistake of providing one-size-fits-all digital media training materials and counsel.

Instead, the best sessions occur when you adapt them to speak to a listener’s needs. That might include a rich geographic focus, a deep dive into an industry or a close look at a particular audience segment.

2. Understand and combat social media anxiety.

Most professionals have heard tales of at least one or two online crises. They are aware that an online situation can sour very quickly.

A good training session certainly helps them understand how to manage a difficult situation, but a great session identifies how a particular individual will gain confidence in online marketing. It’s different for everyone.

Some might choose to shadow another professional, some prefer to have a peer who can vet their responses, and others may need to hear a business case for why social media is necessary.

3. Expect your training programs to evolve as your company’s social media maturity evolves.

When a company establishes a set of social media channels, it will likely only have a few approved online ambassadors. But as social media marketing gains momentum within the organization, the number of ambassadors typically increases.

A good training program diagnoses what program makes sense. Forrester believes programs will start casually, and escalate into a more structured format before finally becoming formal.

To define the right training program for your company, consider four dimensions: content, delivery, participants and measurement. See the specific diagram here.

4. Determine how the legal and marketing departments can work together.

Never very comfortable companions, it’s important for these groups to spend time together to work through any potential differences before the training sessions. You need participants to see the two departments as a collaborative, in-sync team.

It may require some additional prep work, but it’s worth the time. Trainees should feel that the entire organization is behind new ventures like social media.

5. Discuss expected outcomes at the beginning of the training session.

An effective executive media training session may cover a broad range of topics, from “Why does my company require me to become involved in social media?” to “What is an influencer?” to “How do I size a photo for Facebook?”

Since topics can range from general behavior to technical activities, determine if everyone in the group needs the same kind of information. If they don’t, trainers should break the group into smaller groups or create separate modules for specialized tasks.

6. Ask yourself if you’ve offered enough freedom.

Social media works if people feel they are speaking to a person—not a company. If there are too many boundaries in place, professionals will either avoid social media activities or stick to only the most conservative behavior, which could make your brand the boring one at the party. Look for ways to make trainees feel safe enough to be authentic.

It is well worth it to do social media training right. According to an Altimeter study, “companies that provide employees with social media training and open access—rather than simply blocking social sites—experience fewer crises.”

I’ll go even further than the study: Your company is likely to have better relationships with its prospects and customers. And that’s just smart marketing.

Have you led or participated in a social media training session? What best practices would you add to the list?

Elizabeth Sosnow is the managing director of Bliss Integrated Communication. She writes for the firm’s blog, where this article originally appeared.

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