Jane Hart writes an interesting post on top-down vs. bottom-up approaches to nurturing social media in organizations, making the excellent point that bottom up support of existing social media activities will work better than imposing social media use from the top down. What I've been observing in my work with clients, though, is a tendency to use top-down strategies to support bottom-up initiatives, especially in organizations where they're just delving into social media use.
For example, one organization with which I've been working identified a project where employees had expressed interest in using Facebook as a strategy for sharing information and connecting with stakeholders. Management rightly concluded that it made sense to experiment with social media by supporting this project. However, despite my best efforts, the "support" for the project quickly devolved into conversations about who was "allowed" to post and what they were allowed to say--classic control issues that characterize the top-down approach.
Reading Jane's post it occurred to me that we need to have a better understanding of the questions and strategies that will nurture bottom-up participation in social media. Nothing kills a grassroots initiative faster than "Big Brother" strategies. So, some thoughts. . .
- Ask employees what they need from management to support the project. This is probably the most obvious question, but one that I think can get lost in the shuffle. If employees have shown the initiative to start using social media, then they probably have some good ideas about what would be helpful to them in keeping the initiative going. In particular, they are likely to have identified the institutional barriers that impede their ability to make full use of social media. Pay attention to what they say and use an open mind in evaluating their ideas. Do what you can to implement their strategies.
- Focus on removing barriers to social media use, rather than on erecting new ones. In my experience, employees who are trying to use social media for work have a wealth of ideas for moving things forward. Their major problems tend to be with the organizational barriers that stand in their way. Although it is tempting to management to want to control social media use, if they're serious about supporting bottom-up projects, they need to refrain from going down this road. They should work with the project team to remove barriers and make sure that they are not putting new ones in their place.
- Provide employees with resources and ideas that will help them implement their project. Keep an eye out for articles and examples you can share with the team. Share these as a way of indicating your understanding of and support for what they are doing.
- Highlight their successes. Recognition is always appreciated. Share the results of the social media work done by your teams with other members of the organization during meetings and through organizational newsletters and emails. Focus on what's working and share that with others.
- Treat mistakes as learning opportunities. Don't panic and clamp down on the team when the inevitable social media mistakes are made. Accept that someone is going to accidentally post something problematic and that this is part of the process. Use these situations as learning opportunities to determine how you can handle situations the next time they arise.
These are a few of my thoughts. What do you think are the best ways to support bottom-up social media initiatives. What has/hasn't worked in your organization?