Business

Sunday mba

Should you let just any employee tweet about your company?

Sunday MBA provides ideas on running better businesses and succeeding in the modern workplace, this week from MIT Sloan Management Review.

At Mitel, an Ontario business communications company, managers have enlisted 1,600 people to become actively involved in social media.

Mitel has been around for 41 years, but its profile is low. Martyn Etherington, the company’s chief marketing officer and chief of staff, is out to change that — and he thinks social media will be a big part of the process.

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In March of 2014, the company had about 30 people actively engaged in social media, using Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook to talk about the company. By November, that number had grown to 1,600 people.

This runs counter to what many companies practice. At most organizations, employees are not encouraged to talk to the world about the company — and at many they are outright banned from doing so.

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In “Can You Really Let Employees Loose on Social Media?,” an interview by Gerald C. (Jerry) Kane, associate professor of information systems at the Carroll School of Management at Boston College and guest editor for MIT Sloan Management Review‘s Social Business Big Idea Initiative, Etherington explained how he got those numbers of engaged employees up so fast.

Have faith in the payoff “One of the things that I saw when I first came to Mitel was that we’re competing with the likes of Cisco and Avaya,” says Etherington. “These guys have very, very strong brands. I knew that with a David and Goliath story, we could punch way above our weight if we started to invest in digital and started to leverage digital and social.”

Find an example to follow

In Etherington’s case, it was the book “The Social Employee: How Great Companies Make Social Media Work,” by Cheryl Burgess and Mark Burgess. The book argued that the company should “ensure that our employees understand and embrace that we are all stewards of our brand.”

Consider training

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Etherington helped develop a series of social training sessions for Mitel staff. Nearly 1,300 employees participated in the initial series and at least 300 more followed.

‘Canned tweets’ ease the way

Mitel prepares “a whole series of canned tweets that our employees can cut and paste or edit” whenever the company puts out an announcement, says Etherington.

“We’ve tried to take away the fear. Our first goal towards becoming a social enterprise is to empower employee engagement.”

Trust employees as ambassadors

The only rule about what people say online about the company is that they use their best judgment. Etherington says the company asks employees to not “put anything on social you would not say to someone in person. Be respectful of our competitors and really focus on understanding and serving our customers better.”

Throw in some fun

A program called “Mitel Champions” issues social communications challenges for employees, with employees who publish via social media or complete a challenge getting points.

Points get higher the more important the message or challenge. The company also has leader boards, with a monthly award such as a $100 gift card for whoever is on top of the list.

“I have worked in large companies, and these companies try to do their best to inhibit and restrict employee participation in social or major brand initiatives,” says Etherington. “We, on the other hand, have tremendous faith and trust in our employees and partners to uphold our brand promise and to use their best judgment. It was not without risk, but a risk I was willing to take.”

Copyright 2015 MIT Sloan Management Review. All Rights Reserved.
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