Social media is about people – people engaging with each other. So simple, and yet this basic concept has, I believe, been the major stumbling block for companies trying to embrace social media.
Lots of people like using social media. They like the social interaction, the sharing and collaborating. But companies aren’t people and, I believe, are inherently at a disadvantage when using this technology.
So many companies use social media so very poorly.
On Twitter, I hardly even follow any companies anymore. If I have a reason to tweet with a company, I actually feel a little vulnerable. They know who I am, they can see my profile, my photo, links to my website. I’m a person. Who are they? Who am I speaking with? When I deal with a company in person, I deal with a customer service representative, often wearing a name tag. On the phone they always tell me their name (or at least a name). The interactions get humanized, at least somewhat.
But on social media, a very human way of interacting, it’s all anonymous on the company’s side. Some have taken steps to add tags indicating which person on the social media team is tweeting, but I don’t think that really works – it’s unintuitive and clunky. And, ultimately, who the hell wants to engage with someone on a company’s social media team?
Why can’t social media connect the network of employees at a company to their customers? Why not decentralize the staffing of an organization’s social media presence? Why can’t this model of human interaction actually drive the social media strategy?
Over the next few blog posts, I’ll explore some of my evolving views on social media. I think we’re finally coming out of the experimentation phase and embarking on something much more interesting. I often reflect on something Ron Shevlin once said to me, that social media will be as profound a change as people think, but it will come at a much slower pace (did I get that right, Ron?). In the meantime, here’s a professional Vancity example I want to share.
Vancity’s Twitter pilot.
Vancity got on Twitter “late”. And there are good reasons for that – mostly we weren’t ready to do it in a way that was as authentic as how we like to show up in community. Now that we have jumped on board, we’re taking a slightly different approach. My view is that social media is about illuminating the network that makes up Vancity. As a co-operative, Vancity is a network of employees, individual members, business members and not-for-profit, social enterprise & co-operative members. Social media should make it easier for those people and groups to connect directly with each other. That’s an exciting part of our value proposition as a financial co-operative that we’ve only just started to really explore.
A couple of months back, we quietly started a Twitter pilot at Vancity. We recruited staff across the organization who met basic criteria, like having their manager’s approval, gave them some basic training, our super-simple social media guidelines, asked them to use the #VancityCU hashtag and unleashed them to represent us, just like they do in real life. We had a nice mix of staff sign up and the group slowly expanded to represent a decent cross-section of departments across Vancity and the geographic regions of our branches.
My own view is that on Twitter, mostly the @Vancity account should merely retweet what our employees have to say. When a member walks into a branch, they don’t speak to Vancity, they speak to a specific person, with whom they hopefully develop a relationship. I believe that, in a perfect world, the @Vancity account would have nothing original to say, and all news, information and interactions would directly originate with one of our employees (but life isn’t that pure).
At Vancity, our approach is on community engagement, not straight-up communications or member service. We published our employees’ social media guidelines transparently on Vancity.com for all to see, and trust that the people who interact with members on a daily basis, handling large cash transactions and financial advice, can handle social media equally responsibly.
This subtle difference in approach is, I think, fairly profound. Allowing any responsible employee to be on social media, and use @Vancity to amplify their voice when what they tweet is relevant to the Vancity world is a pretty cool model. Not a model just any organization can replicate, because it gets to the heart of the culture we have.
I’m learning a lot from our employees, because we’re harnessing the wisdom of crowds a little. I’m only as smart and creative as I can be, but 25 employees across the organization bring their own ideas to the game and make us all better. (I distrust rules for stuff like this, but I have started preaching the 1% rule, where I’d like 1% of Vancity’s 2,200 employees engaging authentically on social media.)
It’s an exciting time, and we’re embarking on some new ways of doing old things. I’ll be posting more about our journey in the coming weeks and months. Please stay tuned, and leave a comment so I know what you think.