Today’s poll analysis post was written by Jeremy Victor, the editor in chief of B2Bbloggers.com. For more of his writing, follow B2Bbloggers on Facebook and Twitter.

SmartPulse — our weekly nonscientific reader poll in SmartBrief on Social Media — tracks feedback from leading marketers about social media practices and issues. Last week’s poll question: Does your company have a formal training process for employees before they’re allowed to blog, tweet or post other social media content on behalf of the company?

  • No – 70.66%
  • Yes – 18.56%
  • Not applicable – 10.78%

The data from this week’s poll question is at the same time both surprising and unsurprising. Formal training has always been something that some companies embrace and others ignore. And when it comes to social media, that adage appears to hold.

Why It’s Surprising

  • Basic management principles teach us that training leads to better execution. Though some argue training creates a problem, in that once employees gain new skills they use them to find new jobs. This brings a quote from Zig Ziglar to mind, “The only thing worse than training people and having them leave is not training them and having them stay.”
  • Nestlé. BP. Kenneth Cole. Need I say more. During times of crisis, more and more we turn to social media to get a first-hand narrative directly from the company(s) involved. Employees in these situations need guidelines (and training) to ensure they act and respond appropriately. With this in mind, it’s hard to believe these results weren’t flipped, right?

Why It’s Not Surprising

  • Most everyone remains in the experimentation phase of their social media marketing efforts. How would you “formalize” something when you don’t have a proven best practice?
  • Let’s face it, it is hard enough getting money justified for social itself, getting more money justified for training is even harder.
  • Finally, who has time for training today? With barely enough resources available to do your existing work, who is going to create and deliver “formal” training?

I believe training leads to better understanding. And better understanding leads to a commonly shared vision. Without educating employees on the why and how, organizational acceptance and participation in social media initiatives will be seen more as a burden than a benefit.

What’s your take on these results? Surprising or unsurprising?

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20 Responses to “Should your company have a formal social media training program?”

  1. Good point Anthony, thanks for the comment.

  2. Beth M. Wood says:

    Companies should absolutely consider who they would allow to blog/tweet/post on behalf of the company. And then train those people. Not training them would essentially be like letting anyone on your staff be interviewed for or write an article, or ad for your company. All of your brand or corporate materials, including social media communication, must speak with one voice.

  3. Yetta Jaworski says:

    I agree, training is always good. How would you go about developing and marketing a training program on Social Media?

  4. Sonny Gill says:

    Very surprising that people don't think a formal training plan is needed for companies. As Beth mentioned, there's a lot of PR implications, not to mention the fact that employees could be out conducting their social actions however they please because with no guidelines or goals in mind. Building a strong employee advocacy base, and social presence for your company, is lost due to these misguided actions.

    An even bigger issue is the certification piece – your company won't be covered for something said online that could be hugely damaging to your company and their bottom line (if it's something the FTC finds fault in).
    My recent post Communities – Quantity vs. Quality

    • Sonny,
      Let's be careful, the question asked if they "had" a formal training plan, not whether or not they thought it was needed. I say this because of my one point on why it's not surprising. We are still slowly dragging our way out of a recession that has yet to see anything happen that is reducing unemployment. Companies across the board are understaffed, one of the first things to go is training.

      Your points are valid and I'd imagine if we asked the question in support of your points, most readers would agree.

  5. Absolutely – there should be training on Social Media & what the objective the company has in using (or not using) it. We've all seen countless examples of half-hearted implementation, and worse, major faux pas when a inexperienced staff member jumps online to "defend" the company when a customer posts a complaint. Also, companies need to have a cohesive plan when it comes to their social media efforts. Too often, mixed-messages are the rule, which only confuses customers, and negatively impacts reputations.

  6. [...] Click here to read more on this article via Jeremy Victor Share Social Media [...]

  7. A Classy Flea says:

    We created a Facebook committee to discuss posting practices. The committee members (8 total) are the only ones who have administrator privileges. Each person is responsible for make a post and a designated day of the week. This way we make sure that we are consistent with our posts without becoming a burden to our fan base.

  8. @seanEclark says:

    Training in most subjects is over-looked within business nowadays. When we take on new starters we assume they know how to use a spreadsheet or word processing program. That using email is as natural as answering the phone.

    But just because they use Facebook at home doesn't mean they know how to use it in a business environment.

    Even if companies don't have all the answers right now they should be supporting and training staff as their knowledge and understanding of the platforms grow. At the very least appointing someone internally as a Social Media Evangelist to help those that require it, and keeping an eye on developments in the Social space.
    My recent post 3 Reasons UK Businesses Should be on Twitter Right Now

  9. [...] Formal training has always been something that some companies embrace and others ignore. read more [...]

  10. @BbeS says:

    I agree with @seanEclark as well. The biggest thing I see is companies feeling the pressure to get involved in social media, so they jump in but really have no idea what they are doing. Or they rely on an intern that used Facebook in college or someone that uses it for personal use. If companies really want to get into it they need to AT LEAST identify someone too be their evangelist and train them. They can then help train others with best practices.

  11. @PipelineSMS says:

    You could always hire a third party social media management company to handle all your social media PR. We make a living doing it.

  12. Holly Jahangiri says:

    I think training is very important – companies should scope out what's okay, what's not okay, and what they see as a "best practice." But over-training can also stifle the effective use of social media and make people act in ways that are unnatural, stilted, and completely unacceptable in a social media environment. You want people to be real – to be sincere and honest, without being offensive or sharing confidential information. Guidance is good – too many fences take all the fun and genuine interaction out of it. Training should acknowledge that there are certain things we know work better than others, certain things that are disastrous, and continuous sharing of what works and what doesn't is essential to operating in a virtual frontier.

  13. [...] SmartBrief on Social Media recently conducted a reader survey which found that more than 77 per cent of the respondents say that their firms don’t have a formal social media training process before employees are allowed to engage on behalf of the brand in the social space. Though this number isn’t 100% accurate, it still nonetheless alarming. [...]

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  15. [...] a recent Smartblog on Social Media poll, more than 77 percent of respondents reported their companies don’t have any sort of [...]

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