For more than a decade, Dell has enthusiastically encouraged employees worldwide to share information about the company and their particular areas of expertise across social media platforms. As a direct-model business, Dell views social media as a natural extension of its one-to-one relationships with customers.
“Two things really helped us get started,” says Amy Heiss, social media and community director at Dell.“First, our founder and CEO, Michael Dell, is interested in all things tech, so he has been an active user of social media since before it was cool. Second, given that we are a tech company, we have many employees who naturally use technology to share their expertise.”
About seven years ago, Dell created a social media policy that takes into account FTC guidelines and the company’s code of conduct and then developed a practical training program tied to the policy to ensure employee compliance with established rules. Since launching the program, Dell has delivered training classes to more than 50,000 employees and now has an active certified social media team approaching 18,000.
Heiss, who will speak at the ANA Advertising Law & Public Policy Conference, March 28 - 29 in Washington, D.C., describes her role and Dell’s social media advocacy efforts.
Q. What is the thrust of what you do?
A. I lead a global team responsible for social media training and activation at Dell. Our goal is to create employee advocates for our brand by providing education on Dell’s social media policy and principles as well as the tools to make it easier for our team members to connect with our customers in social.
Q. What are some of the key components of your social media policy training program?
A. Our program teaches employees how to share information about Dell, create human-to-human interactions, and demonstrate their thought leadership — while protecting the privacy of both our customers and the company. The program also provides consulting sessions on creating LinkedIn profiles, listening research on which communities are beneficial for establishing expertise in a certain topic, classes on the psychology of social, and more.
This type of career development deepens employee engagement with our brand. Our internal employee satisfaction survey shows that those team members who are part of our employee advocacy program are more satisfied and have a deeper connection to our company strategy than those who are not in the program. We see consistent business impact from the program in the form of social media reach, engagement, clicks to our website, and even sales.
Q. How did you determine the rules for Dell’s social media policy? Were employees at every level of the company involved?
A. The global team I lead was only part of the group that formed our social media policy. We worked with Ryan Garcia, our legal counsel, a governance team, and members of various business units within Dell. Also, through our Social Media and Community Council, we received ideas from a sampling of employees at all levels, regions, and business units.
The goal was to create a social media policy that was broad enough to cover any social network, current or future, and any change in digital behavior. The council also agreed that a long policy would likely be a deterrent to team members, so we kept it as short as possible. The finished product is less than a page long. In fact, the five principles within our policy fit on a small badge card that our employees can carry.
Q. How do you monitor employee posts? Are there feedback mechanisms in place?
A. Through our social media listening command center we are able to see any post related to Dell, our products, or our services in real time. While we do not specifically follow our employees, we are able to see content posted by an employee that contains any keyword related to our brand. What’s interesting about our program is that employees self-police. They recognize that social media is a huge benefit, both for work-related research and personal use.
As a result, we see employees coaching others who may have crossed lines or inadvertently posted content that caused concern among peers. Team members can also contact a generic mailbox and fill out a non-compliance form that our governance team uses to follow up on employee behavior. We offer coaching, recurrent training, workshops, guest speakers, and more to continuously educate our team members on best practices in social. Finally, we have a strong employee code of conduct in place, which covers online behavior. Even if an employee hasn’t completed our social media policy training program, they know their behavior is being held to a high standard.
Q. What are some of the key lessons you have learned about Dell’s social advocacy program that other brands should keep in mind?
A. I recommend getting program buy-in from early social media adopters and giving them a role in helping to communicate the program to the broader employee base. Create a culture where social media is valued. We provide annual conferences for certified members of our social media and community team, where they get a chance to learn about the latest trends, share their own best practices, and meet other team members who are part of our employee advocacy programs.
We also have special guest speakers and events just for our social advocates to thank them for being a critical part of the customer experience at Dell. We share the key benefits of social with employees, in terms of what they will gain from being advocates and what your brand will gain from having their voices in the social space. Finally, to encourage participation, I recommend creating a simple social media policy that is easy to read and follow.