Employees using social media: Empower and reward them—or risk the fallout

A positive workplace culture is the essential first step toward making them brand ambassadors, according to author Josh Bernoff.

It is hard for companies to be good at social media if they don’t have a healthy work culture and happy employees.

Social brands require healthy working cultures. If a company has a healthy work culture, there’s a good chance it is under-utilizing employee contributions on social networks. If it doesn’t have a good working culture, it already has problems on social networks—whether it knows it or not.

Josh Bernoff, senior vice president of idea development at Forrester Research and co-author of “Groundswell,” contends that organizational dynamics are one of the largest contributors to success in the worlds of social media and business alike.

In his most recent book, “Empowered,” Bernoff identifies two questions that every company should be asking employees to determine whether they’re well-poised—or have a poisoned well—when it comes to their working culture: Do you feel empowered? and Do you act resourceful?

Based on the answer to these questions, Bernoff identifies four types of employees that companies need to plan for and manage:

  • Disenfranchised employees (neither empowered nor resourceful) who view their jobs as a source of paychecks and little more. This group accounts for about one-third of information-based employees, Bernoff says;
  • Rogue employees (resourceful, but not empowered) who deploy their creativity and time on unsanctioned projects to achieve results. According to Bernoff, this group accounts for about one in seven information-based employees;
  • Lockdown employees(empowered, but unresourceful) who solve problems by working through existing, inefficient processes and cultural norms at work. This group accounts for another third of information-based employees, says Bernoff; and
  • HERO employees (empowered and resourceful) who are driven to succeed at work and shift pre-existing, unhealthy paradigms as needed to ensure success. HERO is an acronym for “Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives.” Bernoff said the group accounts for roughly one-fifth of information-based employees.

Companies need to have different methods for managing, using and compensating each group. Empowered and resourceful employees are the best social resources a company can have. Employees who aren’t, aren’t.

Forrester surveys show that HEROs are most common among marketing and non-retail sales staff and least common—surprisingly enough— in customer service areas. That’s right: People with direct access to customers are least likely to be empowered and resourceful.

“Marketers often have great ideas on ways to reach out in social channels. Customer service people are among the least likely, which is a shame, since they’re the ones on the front lines interacting with customers every day,” Bernoff told me. “But we see HEROs in every department. In one case, a 21-year veteran underwriter at a multinational insurance company figured out a great way to better serve the company’s life-sciences customers.”

“The question is: When people come up with these ideas, is your company able to support them?”

Employees who aren’t empowered and supported—particularly those in the “rogue” category—are increasingly comfortable talking about their bad experiences with your company on social networks. This point is easily proven by searching for phrases like “my job sucks” on Twitter, YouTube and other social networks.

Large companies spend thousands (sometimes tens of thousands) of cumulative hours implementing a broken compensation model that delivers “incremental increases for most employees.” Such models favor disenfranchised and lockdown employees. They discourage rogues and HEROs. These models pit resourceful employees against the company by requiring them to justify or battle over small percentages—knowing full well that they can achieve better recognition and compensation with another company. They foster a free-agent “what’s-in-it-for-me” mindset among a company’s top contributors.

HEROs need to be found and nurtured in the workplace, and they need to be leveraged on social networks. Without them on your side, your company’s effectiveness on social networks is at risk.

Troy Janisch blogs at Social Meteor.


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