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Social Media 101

Q: Social media is more for people’s personal lives.  Why would a business need to know about social media?

A: Social media is any online interactive platform that facilitates genuine and authentic conversation, collaboration, and exchange of ideas. A common thread running through all definitions of social media is a blending of technology and social interaction for the co-creation of value. Examples are Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, and Foursquare. It is important to remember that social media must be genuine and authentic. This is a key dynamic in being effective and accepted in social media.

Gail Matheson,
Ph. D., Edmonton
Social media is a rapidly growing and evolving medium, so it is understandable that many businesses are uncertain as to how they can use social media effectively.

There are estimated to be 24,525,000 Internet users in Canada. Of those, more than 19,613,000 are on Facebook. Businesses that master social media can have access to a powerful segment of the market. Great insight enables a company to meaningfully set its brand apart from others in the minds of consumers and in the marketplace.

On Facebook, a brand page is your storefront, your customer support centre and your handshake all rolled into one package. It allows you to meet people, introduce them your brand, invite people to talk about your brand and show what you can offer them. This page can be used to provide all sorts of materials and information and allows other members to include your page in their “friend” network and “Like” your brand.

By allowing users to interact with your brand via a site page instead of an ad position on a social network, not only are you able to involve people in activities or events based on your brand, but you can also build a database relatively easily from those who join your page.

Twitter is a great tool to communicate with your customers. It can help you refine your brand image according to consumer feedback. It is very candid, the posts are honest, and occur in real time.

Social media is a supplement to a good marketing and advertising strategy, not a replacement. It is a way for audiences to engage with your brand. It is also a very cost-effective method to obtain some basic market research about your brand.

One of the biggest concerns businesses have is that there is no controlling “the message” on social media. Remember the focus on “genuine and authentic”. There are many studies, some apocryphal, others actual more rigorous scientific research, on the topic of social media on business growth, and a quick search of Google will reveal quite a collection of data on the topic. Intuitively, though, if your customers are already talking about your product, service or competitor, how can that discussion not have an impact on your business, for better or worse?

Here is a scenario. You are a restaurant manager following the Edmonton Twitter stream or an Edmonton restaurants stream and someone Tweets about a bad experience they had at a competing restaurant. Why not tweet that person and offer them a free lunch? Not only are you gaining a new customer, but that customer is an individual that is likely to share his or her positive experience through Twitter. Even more powerful, what if they are tweeting that it was your restaurant that gave them a bad experience? Contact them through Twitter, and apologize for their bad experience and invite them back. By humanizing your brand, you are fostering a genuine and authentic dialogue with your customer base, the very foundations of social media.

The key is to remember to engage with your customer base, not just join these social media sites to create new billboards for your message. Business leaders need to understand that the key to the social media world is experience. A bad experience shared on the Internet can reach to millions of people overnight. The impact on a company’s reputation and sales can be dramatic. At least, business leaders should use social media tools to understand how their company’s brand, products, and services are being used and experienced by people.

Gail Matheson, PhD is the VP, HR & Business Services at the Edmonton Journal. She was the Principal Consultant at Stratius Consulting. Gail is an expert in change management, leadership development, and business transformation. She can be contacted on Twitter as @kabobiboo and via email at

Marty Stanowich is the Social Media Strategist at the Edmonton Journal.  He believes that social media is the biggest thing to happen to the Internet since the Internet, is a supporter of open data, and thinks that people complain about Edmonton too much.  He can be contacted on Twitter as @MarStano.

Keys to Successful Surveys

Q: I have just been asked by our CEO to do another employee survey. We do surveys every two years and have not had great success in the past. What tips can you share for conducting a proper survey?

A: Too many of today’s surveys are less than adequate. Some actually do more harm than good. But conducting a survey properly can create significant value for a company. Here are ten things you should do to have a good survey experience and get the most out of your results.

Joe Folkman
President of
Zenger Folkman
Make a Commitment. Employee surveys demand a lot of work, especially teamwork. To be effective, surveys require an investment of company time and money. If you plan to conduct a survey, make a commitment to doing it right. Then, make a commitment to using the feedback to foster meaningful changes.

Form a Steering Committee. A steering committee with the proper authority, composed of the right people, is essential to accomplishing the change goals of a survey process. A well rounded committee includes 8 to 12 people representing the various levels, demographics and locations in the company.

Keep Your Survey Simple. Some surveys seem to collapse under their own weight. They are long and measure too many things. The reports are complex, the analysis is overwhelming and the feedback is time-consuming.

Measure Things You Are Willing to Change. Establish expectations up front. Although your survey will measure many issues, you will only be focusing on a few critical issues. Too often, employees expect that everything measured will be changed. But if the company takes on too many issues, no change will occur.

Strive to Predict Business Outcomes. When surveys can measure and predict company performance, the results become compelling. It’s exciting to discover, for example, that the groups which scored highest in a certain category also had the most profit, the highest customer satisfaction, the greatest productivity and the lowest turnover.

Create Leverage, Start with Small Wins. Sometimes the results of an employee survey can seem overwhelming. Many people don’t know where to begin with the change process. Also, many employees have become cynical over the years about the “latest corporate initiatives” that didn’t work. Rather than focusing on the most negative survey results, where emotions may influence judgment, begin by identifying two or three areas that will ultimately have the greatest impact on company performance.

Identify Root Causes Through Careful Analysis. The secret to fostering strategic alignment with employee surveys is found in careful analysis that identifies the root causes of surface issues. Problems initially identified by the data become clearer and root causes are easier to identify after thorough analysis.

Involve Everyone, Share Results Widely. Surveys that provide feedback only to the top executive just have one chance to make an impact, but surveys that provide feedback to many people will have many chances. Changes can be carried out more effectively by involving more people at more levels. The changes people notice are those that impact their own work groups. The capacity to generate change is what people look for in a change initiative. Surveys have this capacity when everyone is involved.

Learn from Your Survey Every Year. Once you have established your survey and the company is comfortable with its contents, it helps to build a database of results to make comparisons from year to year. But you should also make sure your survey evolves over time to mirror the changes and changing demands of your company. When your employees are first asked to evaluate the company’s effectiveness, they often respond with what they think others want to hear. But over time, they become more adept critics as they begin to care about what they are rating and as they come to understand the importance of the company’s critical measures.

Make the Survey a Part of Your Business. Ultimately, for employee surveys to make a difference, they must become a standard part of how your company does business rather than a deviation or distraction from regular work. Managers and employees at all levels must learn how to build the survey into their routines. Action planning, measurement, review and analysis then become regular activities that contribute to company success. Without real change efforts and the resulting improvements, a survey and its analysis are merely paper-passing exercises.

Joe Folkman is co-founder and President of Zenger Folkman, a firm that utilizes evidence-driven, strengths-based methods to improve organizations and the people within them. As a respected authority on assessment and change, he has also published extensively on the topics. He can be reached at

Harassment with Employee Who Suffers From a Disability

Q: We received a complaint from an employee about alleged harassment from a co-worker. During our investigation, the alleged harasser disclosed to us that he suffers from a mental disability as defined under the Ontario Human Rights Code (“Code”) which caused him to harass his co-worker. What, if any, right do we have to discipline this employee?

Simon R. Heath,
Keyser Mason Ball
A: One of the basic elements of the employer-employee relationship is that the employer has a right to discipline its employees for conduct that is incompatible with his or her duties. Historically, when misconduct occurred, the employer would conduct an investigation and impose discipline (if discipline was warranted). In consideration of the employer’s obligations under the Code and the Occupational Health and Safety Act to protect its employees from harassment, there is a heightened sense of urgency on the employer to discipline an employee for harassing other workers. However, a conflict can arise between an employer’s obligation to protect its employees from harassment and disciplining the alleged harasser when he/she suffers from a disability under the Code. There is a chance the alleged harasser may allege his/her conduct was non-culpable and therefore he/she was discriminated against on the basis of disability under the Code.

When an employee who commits misconduct alleges that he or she suffers from a mental disability which caused him/her to commit the misconduct, the employer needs to balance the interests of protecting its employees from harassment with the offending employee’s rights under the Code. Where there is no causal connection between the harassment and the mental disability, the employer is free to discipline the employee in the same manner that any other employee would be disciplined for the same misconduct. However, where the employee’s mental disability played a role in the harassment, imposing discipline could expose the employer to liability for discriminating against the employee on the basis of disability under the Code, unless the employer can show that it accommodated the employee to the point of undue hardship. Often, the offending employee will not have advised the employer of his or her disability prior to the alleged incident(s). This will not, however, eradicate the employer’s responsibility to accommodate the employee and to take accommodation measures to ensure that the disability does not cause further workplace harassment.

In light of these principles, the employer should undertake the following steps when a harassment complaint is made against an employee who alleges to suffer from a mental disability:

    1. Investigate the allegation to determine whether misconduct has occurred.

    2. If the investigation confirms that the misconduct occurred, the employer must consider whether the alleged harasser committed the harassment as a result of some type of disability including but not limited to a mental disability. Often the employee will disclose his/her disability. However, if the employee does not disclose his/her disability, the employer must be careful to follow proper protocol with respect to soliciting information with respect to the alleged harasser’s medical condition. If necessary and if permitted under the employee’s employment contractor or policies, the employer should consider retaining the services of a medical professional.

    3. If the alleged harasser suffers from a mental disability, the employer must determine what, if any, part the disability played a role in the harassment. Once again, the employer should consider retaining the services of a medical professional to help determine if there is a causal connection between the disability and the misconduct.

Based on the foregoing steps, if the employer determines that the harassment was not caused by the employee’s disability, the employer is free to discipline the employee in the same manner that any other employee would be disciplined (subject to the tenants of progressive discipline, the nature of the offence and the employee’s prior employment record).

If the employer determines that the disability was the sole reason behind the harassment (i.e., the employee’s behaviour was non-culpable), discipline should not be imposed. Rather, the alleged harasser must be accommodated and steps must be taken to prevent a recurrence of the harassment as part of the accommodation process.

Finally, if the employer determines that the disability played some part in the harassment, then the obligation to accommodate is triggered and the employee may be disciplined (depending on the specific facts of the case). However, the discipline must account for the nature of the disability and the role of the disability in the alleged conduct.

Simon R. Heath, B.A., MIR, LL.B., is an associate in the law firm Keyser Mason Ball LLP and can be reached at


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