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Ideas to keep your social media team motivated
Many running social professionally are burned out. Some ideas to keep them plugged-in and excited about work during both normal and extraordinary times...
Working with teams on social media marketing projects client-side, while at agencies and even passion projects with industry colleagues in free time has given me an appreciation for keeping everyone excited about what they’re doing. In fact it’s tough for me to recall an ultra-successful project that occurred in a situation without a majority of the team motivated and passionate about what they were working on.
You could have a truly brilliant group but if they aren’t motivated, so what? They aren’t going to be in the right mindset to win. In social media this is especially important because everything is going on display publicly. And keeping the motivation going is critical because you’re no longer working in bursts, but rather over a continuum long-term. Due to this, the flipside is many social teams are exposed to 24/7 news cycles, disgruntled customers, internet trolls, etc and so very likely will be some of the most stressed out people in your marketing org. As leaders it’s up to us to pay attention to this and do our best to help.
With that in mind, following are 10 ideas I jotted down specifically for social projects to keep your team members motivated and interested:
1. Develop feedback mechanisms (and actually use them)
A lot of companies talk about providing feedback to their team on social participation. Many will actually start out by doing this – but it’s something I commonly see slide as time goes on. This is a sad state of affairs, because closing the loop by providing feedback is always a motivator for those who take pride in their work.
I’ve done this with teams I’ve worked with even in situations it’s not my domain because I’ve seen the work produced by those who both anticipate and receive the right kind of feedback. Simply put, it’s higher quality. Research by social scientists Dan Ariely and Daniel Pink support this too. Both qualitative and quantitative feedback should be given to motivate all different personalities.
So, don’t just hand social off to one community manager and not include them in strategy or give them proper performance reviews as you think it’s handled and the box is checked. Give feedback, and beyond the structured kind. You should be reading your company’s social updates daily, for example. Likely this is curated in your company Slack, but when something works extra well why not send a note around to the team highlighting the great work of your social pro? You might just make their day.
2. Keep your team free of negativity starting with thoughtful hiring decisions
When growing a social team, remember that they don’t just work together internally, but also interact publicly and coordinate efforts to build a community. The wrong person on a social team could not only be a waste a resources, it could hurt the motivation of everyone. Even one bad hire has ripple effects. To solve this involve the entire group in the hiring process to allow for a collective decision and pool everyone’s notes to check for consistency and the good and they bad they see. It’s up to you as a leader to assess if it’s workable and is a key skill you should develop.
A study by the University of Washington: Rotten To The Core: How Workplace ‘Bad Apples’ Spoil Barrels Of Good Employees published in brief at Science Daily reinforces the importance of keeping your organization made up of those who fit together:
Look around any organization and chances are you’ll be able to find at least one person whose negative behavior affects the rest of the group to varying degrees. So much so, say two University of Washington researchers, that these “bad apples” are like a virus to their teams, and can upset or spoil the whole apple cart.
…Felps and Mitchell define negative people as those who don’t do their fair share of the work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others. They found that a single “toxic” or negative team member can be the catalyst for downward spirals in organizations. In a follow-up study, the researchers found the vast majority of the people they surveyed could identify at least one “bad apple” that had produced organizational dysfunction.
3. Create a 20 percent time
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a 20% time, it’s a simple concept popularized by Google:
The 20 percent time is a well-known part of our philosophy at Google, enabling engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren’t necessarily in our job descriptions. You can use the time to develop something new, or if you see something that’s broken, you can use the time to fix it.
If you have the right social marketing team they are going to be highly interested in experimenting. In fact, they are already going to be doing this personally. To provide the time to do this with others not only helps keep them motivated and thinking creatively, you may find some of the most successful work gets produced here.
Many have noted the benefits of 20% time for increasing innovation and Twitter and others later followed suit. These companies need to keep their team members motivated to continue to dominate the market. Your company is not so different – at least, if you want to attract motivated team members and maintain their spirit long-term. Give your team members the option to take on different kinds of projects to both grow the company and themselves. Even if some ideas fail, those are still a win as you have the type of organization that is empowered to ship. That matters most of all.
4. Allow team members to maintain their own presence
Several years ago, Forrester Research banned their own team members from blogging. I don’t care what their talking points about this are – this move had to have been demotivational for those passionate about the industry who had blogs. As Cory O’Brien previously noted in a post on the subject:
Giving every analyst at Forrester the option of having a blog at blogs.forrester.com makes sense, but to REQUIRE them to post there does not, especially when bloggers like Jeremiah Owyang have shown that bloggers can write outside of a Forrester controlled property and still promote the company that they work for. (Just look through this link for an example of how it can be done well)
To conclude, I think it would have been smart to put guidelines in place for what and how analysts can blog outside of Forrester controlled properties, but to require that they either write on a blog that Forrester controls, or to not blog at all sets a bad precedent, and I hope one that your clients choose not to follow.
Forrester was in a unique position to be able to do this, (I still don’t agree with the decision) and I don’t recommend you follow in their footsteps. I can’t imagine a larger de-motivator for any of your team than to cut them off from their own communities and connections they have built over years of effort. Simply put, if you are hiring good social marketing pros, they are highly likely going to have their own community outside of their employer. If someone is truly interested in something they are pursuing it personally not just professionally.
The Forrester example above is blogging, specifically – but banning team members from keeping any of their own channels or communities (whether a blog, a forum, YouTube channel, whatever) is going to hurt their motivation. The benefits of embracing personal projects go beyond motivation too – companies and individuals with their own communities have a symbiotic relationship. Also, why turn your back on free marketing?
5. Lead from the front (and don’t manage in the traditional sense)
Your team should function as just that, a team. However there should still be someone leading the team – setting an example, inspiring everyone else and functioning as both strategist and tactician. Yes, your leaders should be out there participating too, not just sitting in their ivory towers. Social leadership requires that. A simple analogy for this (and just one style of leadership) could be for your leader to be the Jack Bauer of your company (suggest reading the post if you haven’t, might not be what you think).
Without anyone leading and pushing the team to grow you’re leaving motivation to chance. Why should your team care if the CMO, VP marketing and/or director doesn’t? And actually, they all have to care. Leaders should be easily accessible and, ultimately power distribution should feel horizontal, not vertical. After all, good ideas can come from all directions and ensuring all team members feel their ideas are being heard is a requisite to keep them motivated.
Further, your leaders should also be doing just that: leading, not managing. As Seth Godin notes on the subject in his book Tribes:
Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them. You listen to your manager or you lose your job. A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job. His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.
Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for. They use passion and ideas to lead people as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them. Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it.
6. Physical brainstorms/knowledge-sharing/gatherings
The best social teams work fluidly in some kind of project management system (whether formalized or makeshift). However, physical meetings to brainstorm ideas, engage in knowledge-transfer and even simple gatherings for coffee to discuss the industry as a whole (or even non-industry ideas) are essential to keep everyone on the same page and motivated as a group.
It’s so easy to get caught up in your established workflows and forget about this, but make the time for everyone to get together physically with frequency and they’ll form lasting bonds and the right relationships to positively reinforce each other. With that said, don’t have meetings for the sake of having meetings and always reduce those which are unproductive. Think through why and how you want to bring your group together and be open to evolving that as you go forward. This can take the form of a QBR (Quarter Business Review) so as not to burden team members during their existing workflows.
7. Have specific objectives, reward and recognize success
Does your organization have specific objectives from social? Not just the general “become a leader in industry X” but specific metrics you’re looking to increase? Have you analyzed your analytics to know what types of content get shared most and what traffic sources convert best? If yes, awesome, then you should be able to assign specific metrics your social team is accountable for.
Metrics keep people motivated if:
The upper management team understands/appreciates them and how they play into business objectives
Team members know how to move the needle on specific metrics they are accountable for
Don’t just aimlessly chase a bunch of different KPIs, because what will happen is the social team will celebrate success and no one else will understand why this is good. Education up top about how social metrics impact business and an appreciation for the effort combined with a focus by the team on impacting metrics that matter is a recipe for success.
Further, the team’s success should be rewarded and recognized. If they aren’t producing ideal results yet, the good news about having specific goals means everyone will still be motivated because they’ll know how far off they are and push to get close. And a situation where a social marketing team is getting close to goals is always better than not having a clear understanding of what success looks like. With that said, always ensure the numbers you want are realistic and realize projecting web analytics with 100% accuracy is not really possible (although I’ve worked with teams where we were always within a few % points, so it’s somewhat reasonable to project loosely).
I wrote a post previously on getting started with measurement planning if you’re new to this aspect of marketing and need a primer.
8. Attitude matters
Negative or uncaring attitudes by some group members can poison and hurt the motivation of others, and positive and encouraging attitudes can enable it. The attitude of your entire team matters. Mindsets are infectious and you’ll win or lose based on the aggregate attitude of your group. This can be addressed in the hiring phase – ensure you’re building a positive-minded team. But positive attitudes can and should be nurtured long term. This is advice not just for social team members but your organization as a whole.
The Telegraph notes the findings of Harvard Medical School sociologist Dr Nicholas Christakis. He and his team analyzed 53,228 social connections between 5,124 individuals over time. They found a happy friend increased the odds of someone being happy by 15 percent – but that a friend of a friend boosted the chance by about 10 percent, and a friend of a friend of a friend by about six per cent. Emotions go in both directions – so ensure that the right mindsets are being spread.
9. Embrace failure
In fact, social teams should go a step further and in fact get organized around making mistakes and trying ideas that fall flat. Not every post will be a banger. Failure is always an option because even when you fail you still in a sense succeed. This is because in any form of digital marketing you are constantly getting data which is extremely helpful for future success. Instead of worrying about failure – embrace it, learn from it and iterate quickly.
Make it known to your team that it is OK to fail and get them comfortable with it. This transforms failure from something negative that can put a team member in a downward spiral into an organic part of the process.
Noted research director Peter Norvig notes why failure is a good thing:
If you’re a politician, admitting you’re wrong is a weakness, but if you’re an engineer, you essentially want to be wrong half the time. If you do experiments and you’re always right, then you aren’t getting enough information out of those experiments. You want your experiment to be like the flip of a coin: You have no idea if it is going to come up heads or tails. You want to not know what the results are going to be.
10. Create an agile, friction-free environment
Create an open environment between team members (including leaders) and don’t force a hierarchy for discussions and sharing feedback. Keep communication open and fluid and your team will communicate better and more openly with each other. This is especially important in distributed environments but matters in the office too. Too many obstacles will force work in isolation as opposed to collaboratively.
A friction-free environment keeps everyone motivated because they can quickly share problems and implement solutions before an issue escalates. No one is afraid to reach out to anyone else. The social web natively embraces a friction-free workflow – to create a flow internally with too much friction both hinders results and can cause frustration for your team.
As I previously shared in a post at Online Marketing Blog on the subject of agility:
What makes real-time compelling is the immediacy of information, and consumers are being trained to demand content from media, businesses and each other instantaneously. Agility is the only option here – and if you can become even slightly more agile than competitors, you can position yourself ahead of them with ideas, products and content time and time again.
Embracing agility externally helps keep your team motivated too because they will feel trusted and empowered to participate in the most effective manner possible. Let people be equally agile internally and externally to thrive in the new world.
This is just a short-list – what else do you see as vital to keep your team motivated?