Four steps for successful social media training

SHARLYN LAUBY
Last updated 12:12 10/01/2013
Social Media Training

TRAINING MONTAGE: Teaching staff to use social media is better than leaving it to chance.

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This post was originally published on Mashable.

Traditionally when companies design a policy or guideline, they also try to create a mechanism for employees to learn about whatever the policy relates to. And most of the time, companies call it training - it's the transfer of knowledge about a specific topic.

Social media has been around long enough for most companies to realise it's not a fad. And now that the US National Labour Relations Board is starting to issue guidelines about employee use of social media, more and more companies are recognising the importance of creating guidelines around the use of social media at work.

We talk about the need to conduct social media training. But where does a company start?

Even if your business isn't using social media, having guidelines and training could make a lot of sense. Because when employees use social media responsibly, everyone wins. Here are a few suggestions for building a social media training program.

1. FIGURE OUT WHY YOU'RE CONDUCTING TRAINING

The first step in every good training program is conducting an assessment. The assessment should answer the question of why the company wants to do training and the goal of the session. Justin Levy, senior social communications manager at Citrix, a company which transforms the way business and people collaborate in the cloud era, says social media training is essential when you're using social as part of the business. "Companies should have social media guidelines and should conduct social media training to educate employees on best practices, the opportunities, the potential pitfalls and requirements when leveraging social media on behalf of the company," he says.

In those situations where the company is using social media on a limited basis or not at all, there are things an organisation will want everyone to know. And that's why it might be worthwhile to offer social media training.

Many companies are probably already comfortable with the basics of social networks. However, the worst thing you can do is make assumptions about your audiences' level of competency (hence, the assessment).

Jane Bozarth, author of the book Social Media for Trainers, shares some examples of the information everyone should know. "Many people don't understand some basics, like how to use privacy settings. There are a lot of misunderstandings around some tools: Some people, for instance, don't realise that to participate in Facebook groups or pages you don't need to 'friend' anyone. Many folks just don't know what to make of Twitter. Training in the basics of using tools and providing solid examples of how they are being used in business can help demystify them and encourage use."

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2. DETERMINE WHAT TO INCLUDE

Once the training session has a goal, now it's time to figure out the content. Ultimately, the goal should drive the content. Jay Shepherd, recovering employment lawyer and author of Firing at Will: A Manager's Guide emphasises the need for training to teach employees how to excel using social media. "Concepts are way more important than the ever-changing details of specific platforms. Instead, teach employees how to be effective ambassadors for your organisation and good social media citizens. Include techniques for making their posts interesting, relevant and useful. The world doesn't need any more cat videos."

Bozarth agrees that concepts are more important than tools. "Tools change, and morph, and what an organisation uses today could change tomorrow. Most tools can be used for most purposes. You can have conversation and share links via most any tool. You can have a community on many channels, and depending on how you define 'community,' now even on Twitter and Pinterest," she says. She suggested social media training should include information on personal privacy, creating a good profile, and the basics of digital citizenship.

Another key consideration when it comes to developing content is the audience. Levy reminds us that the level of detail depends on who is taking the training. "If training is an extension of the company's social media guidelines, it is not necessary to teach specific platforms because the intent of that training would be to educate employees in a manner that would be applicable across all social media channels. If the social media training will be for employees who will be directly engaging on behalf of the company, specific social platform training should be provided to help the employees understand how each platform differs and the brand's social voice in each of those channels."

3. DETERMINE TRAINING FREQUENCY

Businesses could be reluctant to engage in social media training because of how fast the social media world operates. Changes to platforms and privacy settings occur regularly - sometimes without notice. It's easy to see the frustration that could occur.

Bozarth says although employees should have ways of being updated as things change, a company with strong social media channels should use that social media, not create separate training events. Once employees are trained, use social media as a delivery mechanism for future training updates.

However, Levy reminds us that major changes could warrant a dedicated training refresher session. "Social media education should be ongoing and evolving as the industry changes. Sometimes this will require significant updates due to changes in federal laws or it may be minor tweaks due to changes on specific platforms."

4. USE A REAL-LIFE PRACTICAL EXAMPLE

Levy explained when Citrix created social media guidelines, the company wanted to make it easy to remember, so it's based on four rules: Be transparent, Be discreet, Play nice, Play by the rules.

Afterward, Citrix developed a short, fun and engaging training video that was required for all members of their worldwide marketing team. The course is hosted on their internal training system. However, they've also posted the training video publicly on YouTube for the value of other users and brands.

The video is only 11 minutes long and covers best practices from industry leaders, working with third parties as well as special circumstances such as moderating comments and running contests. 

Creating a social media training program to compliment your organisational strategy doesn't have to be hard or expensive. It also doesn't have to take days (or even hours) away from the operation. What can be challenging, time-consuming and pricey is when companies leave the responsibility for learning social media to chance.

Mashable is the largest independent news source covering digital culture, social media and technology.

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