There should be an image here!Do you work for a company where social media is used frequently by colleagues to organize, advertise, and enhance the work at hand in a positive manner? Or has a system been installed that just sort of flopped and never took off either because people didn’t like the idea of change or the novelty just wore off before its potential was realized?

Many people are of the opinion that, if a business installs social media tools (like the Web or intranet), staff will naturally start using it. However, these people fail to see that getting people to use social media tools requires a significant change in management effort. In fact, installing the tools in the easy part; getting people to use them is the challenge. Without a change to the overall management plan, there is a very good chance that any social media initiative will never get far off the ground.

So what does the change of management plan need to include?

Executive-level Sponsorship: Make sure that the company’s executives are on board with the initiative and that they’re promoting the tools through conversation and active participation. If the people in charge aren’t using the social media you’re trying to get off the ground around the office, it’s unlikely that it will take off in the lower ranks, either. As they say, “monkey see, monkey do.” Not that your employees are monkeys. Not all of them, anyway. Probably.

Communication Plan: Getting employees to buy into Web 2.0 requires a significant amount of communication. Utilize any mediums available to promote the tools and the benefits they bring to an organization. If people don’t understand such benefits, they probably won’t see social media tools as anything but new, shiny, and ultimately intrusive barriers to the daily workflow. Turning this thinking around is imperative to your effort’s success.

Engaging Content: Conversations should be relevant to employees and should draw them into the online community. If employees don’t feel like they’re part of the conversation, they’ll probably tune it out completely and ignore it altogether once the novelty of this new form of communication goes away. Engage them and chances are that their responsiveness will perpetuate the use of the tools available to them.

Governance Model: Social media tools require some sort of governance model both at the strategic and operation levels. Map out a clear organizational structure that determines hierarchy of users and the direction in which communication should flow within this hierarchy. Emphasize what these social network tools are designed to do and how they should be used with maximum efficiency.

Policy: Employees need to know the rules for using the social media tools. A social media policy should explicitly define what employees can and cannot do within the environment. Making it absolutely clear what lines of conduct are expected when using these tools will help avoid abuse (unintentional or otherwise) of the system early on.

Getting your company’s staff to start using social media likely isn’t something that will happen overnight. Don’t let a slow takeoff completely derail your efforts — keep it a positive experience and reward those who take initiative to use the system, and it will catch on. Have patience!

Have you ever implemented social media tools in the workplace with varying degrees of success? Have you been part of a company where such an attempt has been made by upper and middle management without much reward for their efforts? Tell us all about your experiences in the comments below.