Time to Take Employee Social Media Training Seriously

By Ryan Chynces and Michelle Kostya

Over the past five years, Hootsuite has taught over 100,000 people about business uses of social media. Along the way, we’ve learned a lot about why people want to learn about social media for business and about the optimal ways for getting that learning to stick.

Why businesses should care about social media training

Businesses have a wide range of motivations for boosting the social media skills of their employees.

At the most basic level, companies (and social media managers) want employees to conduct themselves professionally when using social media in any capacity. Ideally, companies want their employees to represent themselves online in a way that’s consistent with their brand and, of course, their policies.

Hootsuite Employee on Social Media

Many companies are taking things to the next level by supporting their sales teams in leveraging social media platforms (such as LinkedIn) for networking and relationship building and their recruiters in searching out potential candidates on social channels.

On the advanced end of the social media literacy spectrum, some organizations may find it necessary to train an elite team of internal “social media reservists,” ready to spring into action when extraordinary situations arise.

What training should cover

Ideally, all company employees should receive basic social media literacy and policy training. Almost all employees are using social media in their personal lives and should be given the skills and education to do this without risk to the business or themselves! This type of training could cover social network best practices such as: ways to set up and optimize social profiles, guidelines for privacy settings, and, of course, the company social media policy or guidelines. A social media policy most often gives employees guidance on discussing the company and competitors on social media, provides reference to broader policies on conduct and security, and identifies potential repercussions for embarrassing the organization.

Hootsuite Social Media Strategy

More advanced social media training for specialized groups of employees could be delivered on an as-needed basis. For example, Human Resources could be trained on best practices for using social media to find and attract candidates while sales teams should receive training on tactics for networking effectively and professionally on social media. These active teams need to think carefully about how their profiles and communications are perceived by both clients and prospects and be conscious of the ways their online presence impacts perceptions of the brand. And, of course, anyone communicating on behalf of the company through official social channels should have more robust training requirements.

For larger organizations, it would be wise to select a handful of trusted employees to be part of a “social media response team” or group of reservists. These trusted employees should, at a minimum, be heavy personal users of social media, or better yet, have experience using social media in a professional capacity. The social media response team could be trained to handle everything from a fiasco vortex (e.g. a poorly thought-out comment by the CEO) to a wildly successful product launch and its resulting media coverage.

A spectrum of training tools

Just as there are many different groups and objectives for social media training, there are many training options and tools of the trade.

All employees should have easy access to documents specifying expectations around social media use. These resources could come in a variety of formats: video, blog posts on intranets, internal case studies, or simple how-to sheets. These resources should be simple enough that employees would be able to articulate them in their own words.

More intensive social media usage, such as for the sales or HR teams, will need more detailed training materials, such as specialized training sessions by a specialist or on-demand online training resources. This training not only needs to cover the basics of social media, but provide students with an understanding of how social media fits with their business strategy and objectives.

For social media managers and others who support business social channels training will be more in-depth; the most effective training will be ongoing, practical and simulate the work they will do daily. Extraordinary social media situations can unfold fast and with wild unpredictably, so training must prepare an organization for a sudden increase in social media activity.

Hootsuite Team Working

There’s an old sports adage that says, “Practice like you play and you will play like you practice,” and the same applies to preparing for extraordinary social media situations. The best way to train a group of social media managers or reservists for real action is to expose them to a barrage of both positive and negative messages, in real-time, within the platforms themselves (or within a social media management tool like Hootsuite).

To accomplish this, one strategy is to set up dummy accounts in your preferred platforms and stock them with challenging and varied comments, Tweets, etc. that trainees need to answer within a set time-limit.  After the simulation, the lead social media manager can review the responses and give the trainees feedback. After digesting the feedback and reviewing any relevant social media guidelines or strategy, the reservist should repeat the simulation exercise with additional challenging messages.

Creating a realistic social media environment with challenging and stressful, time-sensitive messages is the best way to ensure social media reservists will hit the ground running when a real-life situation arises.

4 ways to make training stick

Once these training needs and tools are identified and developed, create a plan to ensure the training is adaptable and ongoing.  Don’t just set it and forget it—make training stick by consistently communicating, updating, and testing the knowledge of your employees.

Hootsuite Employee Working

The authors of “Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning” offer concrete techniques for productive learning. These four tactics from the book will ensure you get the most out of your social media training efforts:

1. Quizzing

Regularly testing people on the material they’ve learned has three key benefits. First, it pinpoints knowledge gaps which can be targeted with additional training. Second, recalling answers on a test actually makes you remember it for longer. And third, knowledge that’s regularly tested can be applied to a wider variety of problems. A versatile application of learning is exactly what’s needed in unpredictable terrain, like a social media crisis.

When giving feedback on right and wrong answers on a test or quiz, another learning technique is to delay feedback. Wait a day or two to walk the tested person through their wrong answers instead of immediately following the test. The delay will lodge the feedback in the student’s memory more effectively.

2. Spacing practice

Instead of massing practice all at once (e.g. a crash course), it’s better to space learning and practice out over days and weeks, allowing some rust to develop between sessions. The process of shaking that rust off is a good thing, because it makes retrieval harder. Harder retrieval makes for more durable learning and a more versatile application of it later. That versatile application of knowledge is exactly what is needed in an unpredictable, varied context like social media.

3. Generation

Trying to solve a problem before being taught the solution leads to better learning. For example, if you are instructing someone on how to respond to a sensitive Twitter message, instead of telling them what an appropriate responses would be, start the exercise off by having them first generate what they think the correct response to the Tweet is, and then course correct from there.

4. Elaboration

Relating learned material to what you already know is a powerful tool that makes training stick. The more you are forced to articulate how a given learning relates to your own life, the stronger your grasp of the new learning will be.

For example, ask learners to put themselves in the shoes of the company’s customers on social media and elaborate on that mindset (e.g. tell me about how you’d react to this apology Tweet if you received it from a brand you were interacting with).

Where to start

Are you ready to reduce the risk of social media mishaps, amplify your message through employee shares, support your social strategy, and more?

Give your employees the social media skills and confidence they need with Hootsuite Custom Education.