Among the many opportunities social media offers to businesses, it presents effective tools to train employees both at the beginning of their employment, and at a later stage, to further and update their skills. But how best to train employees using social media?
Cross-Geographical, Cost-Effective Opportunities
First, social media provides tools that allow training to take place across geographical limits, thus expanding the possibilities of training like never before. Even “simple” tools such as Skype have the power to bring together people located at different places in a common, single, virtual space. If, for instance, you need employees from different local branches to attend a lecture by senior management at headquarters, tools such as Skype or Google Hangouts can be used to set up online conference rooms where everyone can attend cross-geographically at no cost.
GoToWebinar is another useful tool that can be used to develop online seminars, called Webinars, to provide either pre-recorded or live lectures to audiences of up to 1,000 people. Companies can choose between having either videoconferencing or audioconferencing. Without undermining the benefits of face-to-face meetings, virtual ones help save costs on travel, planning, and related expenses, and potentially can reach many more people than a physical space could allow. Moreover, recording lectures and seminars online means people can go back to them at any time.
Using online tools to conduct these training sessions means that members can interact across geographical boundaries and time zones, perhaps even on the move if mobile applications are used. It is a time-efficient, cost-effective, and less burdensome method of training.
Companies also can use social media to develop a multifaceted, multimedia approach to their training programs.
Explanatory pictures and visuals can be provided and shared with company members through social media sites such as Flickr and Pinterest. Instructive videos can be made and shared online through sites such as YouTube or Stupeflix. Online presentations can be developed on Prezi or Slide Share. Key live events can be broadcasted onto Livestream, Make.tv, or Ustream.tv. Informational articles can be published onto blogs; posts can be created on Facebook walls; and short messages sent through Twitter accounts. Conversations can take place within LinkedIn Groups. Company-specific encyclopedias can be developed through DIY Wikis and made accessible at all times. Q&A threads can be created on Yammer. Ideas can be shared, discussed, and voted on in private company communities through Crowdicity. Live conversations can take place with Skype, and as seen above, lectures can be recorded online, or channeled live, through Webinars.
The possibilities offered by social media for training, thus, are abundant. Whether the training program needs visual illustrations, videos, articles, presentations, or Q&As, social media offers the opportunity to have either one, some, or all at no or very little cost.
Of course, the combination of social media tools that will need to be used for training will depend on company needs. However, the tools available today allow for significantly diversified communication to take place between trainer and trainee.
Peer-to-Peer Teaching and Learning
A great advantage that social media provides in terms of training employees is the ability to create virtual communities where everyone on the team can interact. This gives training an aspect that may not have been as easy to create before social media: the ability to have indirect, organic, peer-to-peer training.
There are many social media tools that can be used to create interactive, online, company-limited, virtual spaces, including a Facebook Group, LinkedIn Group, Yammer Group, or a tailored-made virtual social space, among other options. These groups can be as large or small as the group creator decides, incorporating everyone in the company or just a department, for instance.
Within these private online spaces, accessible at any time and from anywhere, people can share their thoughts, give insight, ask questions, give answers, provide feedback, and warn of past errors. New employees can learn from the expertise of older ones by simply reading what is being said or asking questions of the forum. Long-time employees can learn from others, too, by getting fresh feedback, ideas, and solutions to new challenges.
Social media allows for competitions, contests, games, and challenges to be created, presenting a more entertaining and interactive way for employees to learn. And if rewards are given, it can motivate employees to do their best and make the most out of these competitions.
Facebook and Twitter are useful platforms to run competitions as they provide the tools to create quizzes, polls, sweepstakes, and games. Companies also can use features such as “Like” on Facebook to have other employees “Like” the answers they prefer in order to determine a winner, thus, making it more of a peer-to-peer experience. Or companies can be creative and ask employees to create their best video using Stupeflix, picture gallery using Pinterest, or blog piece using WordPress to answer a specific industry-related question, for example.
Possibilities are wide, and creativity is the name of the game.
Case Study: Blue Corona
Blue Corona, an inbound marketing, analytics and optimization company, provides a good example of what can be done with social media to conduct efficient training.
The company uses several social media tools to channel training, both formally and informally. Its Facebook Page, https://www.facebook.com/bluecorona, along with employee updates and funny pictures, also is used to post interesting, informational articles employees come across. Moreover, the company has a wall of short YouTube videos on several SEO and Marketing subjects: http://www.bluecorona.com/resources/seo-and-internet-marketing-videos. Primarily, these are useful for clients to learn more about how things are done. However, these videos also provide great information and insight for new employees, such as a video on the “5 common mistakes in SEO.”
In addition, the company maintains a regular blog with articles on a range of relevant topics. Although this is, again, useful to clients, the blog has virtually become a database of informational articles that employees can refer to if need be.
Perhaps the most interesting and creative bit is the company’s creation of its own online university: the Blue Corona University (“Blue Corona U”). According to the company, this online space was “created to facilitate the onboarding and training of new employees by offering online classes designed to transform students into Web marketing pros in 16 weeks or less. All courses are delivered online and are available 24/7 via Blue Corona’s own e-learning platform.”
Ben Landers, president of Blue Corona, explains that this option has allowed the company to efficiently cope with an influx of new employees arriving roughly at the same time. He explains:
“As a company, we’ve been growing at an exceptional rate. Fueling that growth requires hiring, onboarding, and training lots of people. What we’ve found is that there are a lot of smart people out there, but not nearly as many with skills and experience in content marketing, analytics, PPC, SEO, and conversion-rate optimization. We needed a way to bring smart people up to speed quickly, so we created Blue Corona U.”
The training program offers both informational and creative classes with the subject of each course ranging from general company to role-specific knowledge and general industry insights. Landers says the typical course combines videos, multiple choice, fill in the blank, puzzles, games, and essays. Each course is followed by a quiz. Earning certain quiz scores and completing various course sequences earns employees prizes and promotions.
To conclude, companies can use social media to train employees on a cross-geographical level, using a multimedia approach that relies on more indirect, peer-to-peer, and creative methods to render training a more engaging experience while saving time and money.
Steve Nicholls is the author of best-selling book Social Media in Business, an international speaker, and social media strategist who consults with business executives to facilitate implementation of winning social media strategies. Nicholls has designed and implemented advanced Internet applications and social media programs for many global organizations, including British Telecom, Ciena Corp., John Laing, and NSPCC. He recently designed social media programs and educational tools for the University of Baltimore and Brooklyn College to train the next generation of experts in this new field of customer outreach. Beginning his career as a project manager in skyscraper construction, Nicholls earned his MBA at Henley Business School and his Masters of Science in Organizational Development from the University of Portsmouth.