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Social Pro Files: Every employee in your company can have a role in social media

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This post was written by Troy Janisch and Mark Anderson. Both contributors have two decades of digital marketing experience and lead social media activities at American Family Insurance, a Fortune 300 company. Janisch blogs at and Anderson shares his art at

Many companies are still overly wary of social networks when, instead, they could be leveraging their employees’ social engagement power.

According to a recent study, Facebook remains the most-blocked and most-filtered website by companies. The openDNS study said that 14% of companies blacklist Facebook — compared with the 1.2% of companies that blacklist certain pornography sites. Other social networking sites among the top five blacklisted sites include MySpace (10%), YouTube (8%) and Twitter (2%).

The same social network sites are also frequently filtered by companies: Facebook (23%),  MySpace (13%), YouTube (12%), and Twitter (4%).  Companies blacklist and block social network sites because they’re afraid of the effects these sites have on productivity and bandwidth.

However, blocking is a poor policy for most companies, according to Social Pro Josh Bernoff, senior vice president of idea development at Forrester Research and co-author of “Groundswell” and “Empowered.”  He notes that blocking social network sites sends the wrong signals to the workforce and can prevent the company from leveraging one of its most valuable assets: Its employees.

“Every single organization has people in it who have creative ideas on how to reach out to customers in social channels. And every organization needs a plan for tapping into that creativity,” Bernoff said. “Obviously, if you’re the U.S. Army or a pharmaceutical company, you can’t just let people build whatever social applications they want — there are security rules. But in general, the organization that taps into this energy is going to be more competitive and more connected to customers than the one that doesn’t.”

American Family Insurance (the company we work for) is a social company in a regulated industry. We make social networks available to more than 8,000 employees. We also encourage and enable more than 2,000 of our agents to connect with customers on Facebook from their own fan pages. But making social networks widely available requires having the right social media policy, tools and training opportunities in place.

The role employees play in a company’s social media strategies varies. Every employee can play a “listening” role on social networks. While participating on social networks — on their own time — they can capture company-related conversations and product-relevant conversations they witness. Employees can also play an “amplifying” role by retweeting and sharing company-related information, activities and events.

A smaller group of employees working in marketing, customer service, and sales can be given larger roles.  Bernoff characterizes these employees as HEROs, an acronym meaning Highly Empowered and Resourceful Operatives. These employees should be part of a multidisciplinary team that responds to social channels.

“In an age in which one of your unhappy customers can reach a million people with a single tweet (this happened to Maytag), you need to move in a very fast and nimble way to reach out. This requires embracing the HEROs in your organization,” Bernoff says. “The people who interact with customers in your organization are the ones most likely to have great ideas on how better to serve those customers — you don’t want to waste that. Embracing HEROs gets innovation coming from everywhere in the company.”

Image credit: Mark Anderson

Correction: The openDNS study found that 1.2% of companies block certain pornography sites. SmartBlog on Social Media regrets the error.