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Don’t Forget Middle Management in Your Social Media Adoption Plans

During Q&A at socialmedia.org’s #BrandsOnly summit, an audience member asked me, “What was your biggest lesson learned launching Dell’s social media training program?” My answer was simple. You must attain Executive support for launching a social media training and employee advocacy program, especially the middle management layer. Even if you think you have senior buy-in, ensure that middle management understands the value of social media and how to effectively lead (and manage) in the space.

Why? Middle management is the lynch pin for the success or failure of all the hard work, sweat, blood and tears that you have placed into your social media training and advocacy programs. You are trying to motivate and change behavior for individual employees. The majority of employees look to their direct management team for support and buy-in when it comes to their daily work.

Back in 2010, when we decided to launch Dell’s social media training program (SMaC University), we were bandwidth constrained (two of us) and had to strategically prioritize where we would focus on training Dell’s 110K employees.

As we looked at our socially active employees, we found 400+ individual contributors that were using social (some great, some not so great). We decided to focus our training program on the 400+ with all the materials, classes, pilots and programs geared towards individual contributors.

From an Executive perspective, we believed we were covered. Our CEO, Michael Dell, had pushed Dell into social media back in 2006. Our CMO was active and continually receiving accolades for her usage. Our VP was continually taking his “walking deck” and educating Executives on the power of social and our mission.

In the first year of SMaC University, we opened the certification courses to all employees, while making it mandatory for any employee using social on behalf of Dell. In the first year, we trained thousands of employees, mostly below the management layer. We created a groundswell around the program with excited employees asking to incorporate social into their daily roles.

We were thrilled with the results, until we heard some employees coming back to us and sharing that their manager didn’t support social media as part of their day job. Managers were questioning the value and time commitments. One manager even asked an employee to quit blogging on behalf of Dell.

While there were numerous supportive managers, we recognized our biggest lesson. Get your middle management on board, especially in the early stages. You need to teach them the business value of social, plus how to effectively manage and lead social employees.

What programs do you have in place to reach, educate and inspire the middle management layer for social business?

SASI is dedicating the month of January to Social Executive adoption and will be covering more ideas this month to ensure you have the right support to kick off 2014!

Here’s to an exciting new year filled with lots of Executive support, rich customer conversations, and social active employees, all leading to a successful business year!