Social media for business is shaking up the organizational chart. It’s turning employees into marketers, marketers into change agents, and trainers into technology. It’s good for business, good for employees, and a historic opportunity for marketers to radically expand their influence on the organization.

Everyone’s in Marketing

Most marketers, especially B2B marketers, don’t really understand social. Most marketers use social networks as another broadcast channel, more advertising inventory on which the brand hawks its wares.

That’s not social.

It’s a business cliché that every employee is in sales. Now there’s a new reality: Everyone’s in marketing, too. In the past, marketing departments controlled the company’s marketing channels. Social networking has changed that. Everyone—from the CEO to the night watchman—can use social networks to represent the company, its brand, and its offerings.

That’s social.

Social networking has turned employees into microsites. They’re on LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social networks representing themselves, the company, and the brand. When employees associate themselves with a brand, they become its ambassadors. In the social-driven marketplace, they carry the company flag.

Marketers who devote their budgets driving traffic to their corporate websites are waking up to the fact that those websites are just the beginning. As marketers, they also need to influence the hundreds, thousands, even tens of thousands of employee-operated microsites that also represent the brand.

Social networks aren’t like other marketing channels. Social networks are…well…social. They’re about 1-1 relationships and conversations. They’re about people networking, not brands broadcasting. This media isn’t paid or owned. It’s earned—earned from a company’s employees who are the owners of their social networks.

Marketing as a Corporate Change Agent

Social networking casts the marketing department in the unfamiliar role of corporate change agent. As the access to marketing tools spreads to the full employee base, all those employees become critical pieces of the marketing ecosystem.

The marketing team’s role shifts from executing campaigns to employee enablement. Marketing needs to guide employees to use social in ways that drive brand awareness, generate leads, attract talent, and deepen customer relationships.

Like every change effort, it’s a process. It’s a lot more complicated than placing an ad or optimizing a website. The marketing department must bring the rest of the company to the new world of social business. Marketing is literally leading the rest of the company to the future of business.

Fortunately, the path to that future is fairly clear. In simplest terms, it comes down to three M’s: Mobilize, Maximize, Measure.

  • Mobilize their excitement. Some employees don’t see the point of social networking. Companies need to help employees understand the power of social marketing, how it fits into their daily workflow, and how it’s a win-win for the company and the employee.
  • Maximize their effectiveness. Employees who use social networks effectively do 3 things: create compelling profiles, build robust and relevant networks, and engage those networks with valuable content. Here again, employees need help.
  • Measure their impact. As with any marketing initiative, top performers measure the impact of their activity. If bottom-line contribution isn’t clear, they look at leading indicators like profile quality, network size and relevance, social sharing, and clickthroughs.

Personalized Training at Enterprise Scale

Over the past two years, forward-looking companies and professional services firms have brought social media experts into the office to train employees on social. While many have seen positive results with this approach, it has a significant limitation: it doesn’t scale.

When a manual process doesn’t scale, there’s an opportunity to introduce technology to automate it. That’s exactly what’s happening here. A new breed of training automation tools is starting to upstage manual training, and to deliver the benefits of social business to even the largest companies.

These automated training tools integrate directly with the social networks themselves via each networks’ application programming interface (or “API” for short.) This allows them to pull in an employee’s social data—their profiles, networks, and shared content—from all the employee’s networks and make personalized recommendations based on that data.

Integration directly with the social networks themselves is what sets social training automation apart from traditional e-learning solutions. E-learning solutions explain or simulate a process for the user, without actually executing on them. Automated social training tools actually help the employee, in real time, take the actions required on social networks to be more effective.

Trust is the Basis of Social

Employee online interactions with prospects, customers, and channel partners are based on trust. They connect to those individuals with a strong expectation that they retain full control over who sees and participates in those interactions. That trust is sacred. Without it, social networks degenerate into very noisy broadcasting booths.

Employee networks are similarly sacred. They belong to the employee, and must not be compromised. If employees so much as suspect that someone else is accessing their conversations on social networks, the opportunity to conduct business there is lost.

Companies achieve the best results when they guide, not invade. The best companies offer social training (whether manual or automated) as an employee benefit, a form of professional education or development. They steer clear of top-down mandates (“This is mandatory for all staff!”) in favor of recommendations (“We think this could really help you.”) Most of all, they respect the privacy of their employee’s networks.

Professionals want to use social better. Ask your colleagues about LinkedIn and the vast majority will say, “I’m on it, but I don’t use it very well.” They need help, and they want it.

By helping employees become effective social marketers in a scalable and non-controlling way, marketers can improve company performance and reinvent themselves as company change agents.

About the Author

Michael Idinopulos is the Chief Marketing Officer for PeopleLinx. He led one of the earliest enterprise-scale deployments of blogs, wikis, and social networking. Michael’s TEDx talk, “Mr. Manager, Tear Down These (Digital) Walls” is available on YouTube. Michael holds a B.A. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in philosophy from U.C. Berkeley.