Social Influencers in the Corporate World

I’m having a bit of a @socialmediaexaminer binge at the moment. For a while I was put off by their frankly uninspiring emails, but having paid closer attention in recent weeks I’m starting to appreciate their content. Today an interesting article about the power of influencers in social media marketing popped into my inbox; the headline was that 13-24 yr olds value social media influencers beyond traditional celebrity endorsement. Why? Because social media stars are more relatable than their Hollywood equivalents. In a study of 1,500 teen perceptions of social vs Hollywood, PewDiePie (a video gamer) defeated comedian Seth Rogan in 8 different categories including authenticity and approachability.

I draw wholly positive conclusions from this unscientific study because it reinforces what I’ve been suspecting for a while – the next generation will be the most canny yet when it comes to media influence. And you need only watch TED Talks by such ‘Gen Yers’ as Boyan Slat to see how a socially connected world is creating opportunities to solve some serious planetary challenges.

But that’s an aside. The relevant take-away from this article for L&D, is how social influencers can be used to increase the application of learning and ultimately change behaviour. Peer pressure isn’t necessarily a bad thing if it leads to positive outcomes and it’s a fact of life that human beings will follow behaviours of those perceived as higher in the social hierarchy. L&D’s job could be to identify the “cool kids” and use them to endorse new ways of thinking and working. If social media marketers can do it, why can’t L&D? Open minds and open hearts are attractive to those who really care and want to make a difference in their careers.

Enterprise Social Media in business is offering the opportunity to find those that are firstly, open to new ideas and technology, and secondly those who are able to drive trends and changes in thinking. Social is not prevalent across BP; activity is more focused in pockets (around 10% of employees), but as culture changes and “innovation” becomes a buzzword, the opportunities to influence are growing. Whether by choice or by force, the old ways of working are being questioned, the challenge is ensuring that something positive and progressive isn’t made grotesque through contact with the “old world”.

We are talking about social learning in action, but not focused, as it often is, on a model that can be drawn neatly on a board to satisfy traditional learning colleagues. It’s much more fluid, and it’s possible for us to create a network of influencers in learning without any fear of being stopped by corporate politics. The traditional learning function has started to prod social learning, but will inevitably consign itself to the approved formal processes such as mentoring and line manager support. It’s open season for identifying advocates who can support new innovative approaches, and Enterprise Social Media provides a tool for us to start having conversations with those individuals.

A recent study conducted in my team found that graduates valued line manager support as the most important factor in driving their own development. In an industrial business it’s easy to see how this would be the case. Graduates often report a “line manager lottery” where their eventually full-time contracts are disproportionately affected by their seemingly random assignment to teams. The future flattened organisations however, will be a meritocracy rather than an autocracy – the best ideas will rise to the top, rather than it being the highest paid person’s opinion that counts. Therefore we need to tackle this cultural challenge on two fronts, redefining the role of leaders from being “leaders”, to being servants of their teams, and nurturing influencers who can start to create an environment where it’s okay to try new things, fail and trust others.

If you’re thinking, “yes, that sounds good”. You can check out phase two, ‘How to Find Influential People with Social Media’ here.

Opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of my employer.

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