(Excerpted from NSFW, Charles Epstein’s monthly humor column in Workspan)
“Nobody knows anything,” said William Goldman, writer of a handful of the most memorable films ever made. The quote has become almost biblical in its concise authority. Now, more than 30 years since its writing, the number of people not knowing anything has increased exponentially. Opinions are paraded as facts, anything inconvenient is labeled as fake and an armchair army of like-minded people are backing you.
What happens when this starts seeping into everyday life and your elderly parent shrieks “fake news” when you gently try persuading him to use his walker? Or your toddler blurts “fake news” when you try making a fact-based case for eating the steamed broccoli? All of which brings us to HR.
You’re responsible for communicating with your workforce regularly. For years you’ve sent emails and newsletters on all the standard topics, all of which were met with the usual degrees of what we’ll politely describe as casual interest. But that’s about to change.
“Fake news!” thunders Richard Wald, responding to a critical performance review.
(This is excerpted from our maiden montlhy HR humor column, NSFW, in Workspan. Each takes a humorous look at an aspect of HR. Comments, as always, are welcome – within limits, of course).
Years ago — we’re talking the days of MS-DOS and WordPerfect — someone showed me this amazing office trick. I was working on the editorial side for what was then a hot, new media company, and I found myself spending more time hanging with the programmers and IT folks, asking them a lot of annoying tech-related questions as it was all so new, certainly to me.
I was standing over Johan’s left shoulder, mesmerized by whatever new video game he was obsessing over that week . . . when suddenly and with terrifying speed, he hit a combination of keys (Alt+G, if memory serves), whereupon the screen immediately filled with a spreadsheet and pie chart.
“Whatcha got there, Johan?” asked Jim, Johan’s boss, peering over a sheaf of printouts as he sharked past the cubicle.
“Hey, just looking at some numbers,” Johan replied, satisfying Jim’s seemingly casual curiosity.
Johan had hit the “game key” in the nick of time. Most of the video games he played had a game key, each calling up a light variation of the same spreadsheet. (FYI, this scenario predated the 1999 movie “Office Space” by six years.)
It’s funny to think that back then a silly, nonexcessively violent computer game was considered “not safe for work,” when today you need a hazmat suit to wade through the wildly inappropriate, shocking stuff that cascades from all corners of the internet on an hourly basis. Then again, there was a time when showing up to the office sans necktie or sensible shoes was considered not safe for work, so the definition of what’s unacceptable continuously changes (what will make your employees blanch, your boss irate and your colleagues inconsolable in the not-too-distant future is sure to be an order of magnitude more horrific than what we’re seeing now).
Almost every time we’re asked whether we do social media, we know what’s really being asked: “Can you help us figure out a coherent communications/business strategy, as we don’t have the time or patience, let alone the faintest idea why a particular image of a shrugging Siamese cat is so damn funny?”
The problem is that “doing” social media seems pretty basic, until you try actually doing it. After all, what’s so hard to understand about a 140 character tweet or putting up and maintaining a company Linkedin or Facebook page? But it’s kind of like starting a diet — after week one you’re thinking, this isn’t so bad, I can do this. But come week three and week four, you realize what you‘ve gotten yourself into. After a month, perhaps two, of somewhat regular tweeting, posting and uploading, you don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Your incisive comments, insights, and flashes of genuine wit are failing to be liked, retweeted, commented upon. Your following is stuck in the low three digits and doesn’t seem to budge no matter what you do. You’re wondering why your content isn’t resonating…and in a fit of frustration you make the terrible mistake of posting an image of a shrugging Siamese cat.
Before you post a picture of a shrugging Siamese cat (which, full disclosure, I have never exactly seen), we’d like to share some thoughts on how you can use social media to make friends and influence highly influential people.
Pick a strategy, and stick with it. This pudding, thundered Churchill, has no theme! The lack of a theme — or overarching strategy — can be as devastating to a bowl of tapioca pudding as it can be to social media activity. Take a look at the Twitter or Facebook pages of the top companies in your space, particularly those are particularly active and effective (based on numbers of followers). Their tweets/posts may seem random and disconnected, but it’s very likely that there’s method to it. A social media strategy begins with goals — what are your areas of focus, who is your target audience, how do you define success? Once this is firmly established, it’s imperative to establish daily operational procedures to coordinate timing and topics/content. If it’s a team effort, keep all stakeholders in sync. (Pro Tip: using a tool like Hootsuite for Twitter makes it easy to coordinate team activities, and via their analytics you’ll get a sense of what’s working and what’s not.)
Find your “voice.” Social media is qualitatively different from traditional communications channels. For instance Twitter has its own syntax, language, time-honored in-jokes and memes. Mastering the subtleties of irony — or at least knowing it when you see it — is an important skill to have. Think of a company voice as a company brand within the context of social media. It’s more subtle than just conveying your brand, requiring more careful calibration of your “tone.” Being too “corporate” or “official” sounding can come across as stiff and off-putting. You must always bear in mind that social media is, fundamentally, about a conversation — think of a tweet or post as a conversation starter or stirrer…you are not tweeting “at” you are tweeting “with” (Ed. Note: though we still reserve the right to laugh at you, not with you).
Connect and engage. Our primary social media strategy is to engage reporters and analysts via Twitter, which is where many of them live. We monitor several feeds throughout the day and respond to tweets that for any number of reasons have particular resonance — maybe it goes to a technology or issue that’s relevant to a client, or it’s simply interesting and timely. We aren’t always looking to advance the interests of a specific client, but rather, keep our media relations fluid and consistent, and to underscore our value as a reliable editorial resource…so when we do want to send a pitch, it’s more likely to be given consideration. Of course your mileage may vary — chances are you’re looking to use social media to raise your profile among potential customers, possibly new business partners. There too, you’ll want to build your following by consistent engagement, while being selectively opportunistic in reaching out via a direct message. Reply to them, tweet stories at them, and don’t be afraid to crack a joke or two during a Friday tweetstorm. Keep it professional, but keep it light too, and your brand could develop a reputation for being hip, fun and informative.
Being effective begins with a coherent strategy, clear goals and sustained commitment. Before you get any traction, it’s a grind. The key is finding your social media voice — it’s a process, but it’s there and you’ll eventually find it; the real challenge is sticking to it! Whatever you do, resist the urge to post pictures of Siamese or any cats, for that matter, as it’s a sure sign that you’ve given up. They’re cute, no doubt, but it’s not a great look.