Social media literacy now essential for senior executives

Every year I see the same experts claiming social media is dead. This typically unleashes a level of online geek rage equivalent to what happens ...

Every year I see the same experts claiming social media is dead. This typically unleashes a level of online geek rage equivalent to what happens after a cancelled appearance from William Shatner at a Star Trek convention. It's even entertaining to sit back and watch the debate rage on Twitter, LinkedIn and popular news and tech sites.

Social media is not dead – in fact it has grown up and evolved into a business discipline. It has become more important to our business success but also broader in it's application.

There has been marginal increase in the number of new job openings for people with titles such as the coveted Social Media Manager, but according to statistics from LinkedIn there has also been a year-on-year 1300% increase in overall job postings for general positions that require social media literacy – and 42% of these postings are at the senior level.

It's no longer enough for a vice-president of marketing or chief brand officer to be good at managing social staff or recruiting them. Companies hiring these senior marketing and business executives now see social media as a vital hands-on competency. It can no longer be an afterthought or something that marketing executives should be blindly delegating or outsourcing.

Three years ago when my team and I at Socialized Communications talked to organizations about social media, most wanted someone to manage their social media for them. We had to debate, twist arms and provide mountains of data to prove that the best path was for us to train them, and work with them, not do it for them. Most people saw social media as a cubicle. Today the tides have shifted and social media literacy is now being seen as an organization-wide mandate and cultural necessity.

Forward thinking organizations like Ford Canada, Paladin Security, The Vancouver Board of Trade and Make-a-Wish BC/Yukon are focused on helping staff at all levels use social media. It's not just for marketing: CEOs, sales staff, customer service and even CFOs in some these organizations are tweeting (yes, social-savvy accountants do exist).

In their industry leading study The State of Social Business 2013: The Maturing of Social Media into Social Business, the Altimeter Group cited training and education around social media as being in the top 3 areas of focus for the businesses they surveyed. Another finding was that only 13% of organizations have a social media policy and have educated their staff on it. This oversight poses a significant risk to most enterprises from both a legal and brand management perspective.

So what does it mean to be social media literate? There are five key areas that I would suggest you focus on when building a social media education program for your company:

Social media policy and guidelines document: Develop one and then educate all staff on it. This sets the tone for the company. It also protects staff, the brand and your stakeholders.

Rules of engagement: There are best practices and different sets of etiquette for each platform. There are also important dos and don'ts around building community, approaching business partners and dealing with negativity online.

Tools of engagement: Education on this would be for anyone on your team using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc., on behalf of the company or at work. A two-hour crash course on Twitter can save a newbie days of trial and error. We want to make sure we make it easy for staff to start and use the tools.

Social media strategy: People need understand the business application of social media and how to integrate its use into their business unit and individual roles. This in many cases would be broken down by business unit. Your sales team will use social media strategically different than marketing or service. From prize contests to specifically reaching out to a select demographic – social business strategy is needed.

Social media management and measurement: This area can be a significant investment and a vital component of your social media program. Tools like Radian6, HootSuite and social CRM tools like SalesForce.com or Nimble can help you organize, measure and professionalize your social media use. They organize and help you embed business processes while using an otherwise messy chaotic medium.

You may never work in a social media department, but your future success will be reliant on you becoming a social businessperson. The sooner that investment is made the more secure your business and career future will be.

"…a year-on-year 1300% increase in overall job postings for positions that require social media literacy and 42% of these postings are at the senior level." - Linkedin

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