The business world has a crippling lack of technology skills, and the cost to the U.S. economy is staggering. According to a Harris Poll commissioned by learning company Grovo last year, only one in 10 U.S. workers consider themselves proficient with the digital tools they use every day at work. And when you consider that "challenges related to working with documents" cost businesses 21.3% in total productivity, according to IDC, the lack of digital skills may drain over $1.3 trillion per year from the U.S. economy.
This penalty could be significantly higher in companies where employees are uncomfortable with social technology. Companies see social networks as the future "office" -- a setting where teams can communicate, share documents, collaborate and work more productively, no matter where they are. The big tech companies recognize this demand and are racing to capture the enterprise market. Facebook, for example, is preparing to launch an enterprise social network called Facebook at Work, and LinkedIn, too, is piloting an internal social network for businesses.
At the same time, businesses view social networks as the future of marketing, selling and recruiting -- the place where workers across all departments connect with leads, share content and generate awareness of their companies. So employees have to be equally comfortable on both internal and public-facing social media, yet it seems clear that the U.S. workforce doesn't have the skills to use social technology effectively -- yet. The question is, how should businesses respond to this dilemma?
In the short term, businesses can spend all their effort trying to attract the savvy 10% of workers comfortable with social tools, but they alone can't transform the productivity of thousands of other employees. In the long term, it makes more sense to acquire the technology you want and then train people to use it. Training becomes a force for retaining talent, because people want to remain in an environment where their value and potential grows over time. Here are three ways companies can train their employees in social skills to improve productivity:
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1. How to curate great social media content
In a social web characterized by information overload, great content is a valuable commodity. When you post useful blog posts, videos, infographics, etc., you build credibility and gratitude. People want to see what you share and hear what you have to say. However, if you put out irrelevant junk, the audience tunes you out. This is why employees need hard training in curation. Provide great content but also show employees where to find unique content relevant to your industry. Moreover, teach people to write personal comments or arguments that contextualize the content. That added touch is often the difference between people reading and people scrolling right by.
2. How to add value to interactions
Social media training should teach employees to see themselves as part of a virtual community where they can find ways to help their fellow members. For example, your employees can introduce social connections who share common interests and can help each other. This form of virtual networking is so easy to do and so appreciated. Using those content curation skills, your employees can also start spicy, interesting conversations that people want to join. The exchange of knowledge (or entertainment) is valuable. These examples involve soft skills that also require hard techniques. Someone new to social media has to see what this looks like on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc., and then practice. Live demos and live training are the way to go.
3. How to market, sell and recruit effectively
If workers can curate great content and add value to interactions, then they can target these same skills toward prospects. Teach employees to think like their audience, keeping in mind that many employees (especially in a large enterprise) will have minimal or no contact at all with customers. Who is the customer and what role is he or she in? What challenges does this person face, and how can employees help? Ditto with social recruiting -- the key is to think from the perspective of the candidate. Why would a 22- year-old software engineering grad or a 45-year-old VP of finance want to join our company over all others? What can I share that would peak their interest? Through social marketing, selling and recruiting, you elevate content curation and interactions to acts of empathy.
By using these social tech skills, employees build their personal and professional brand -- and elevate your company brand. Trust me, your employees don't want to be stuck in that 90% of workers who struggle with technology every day. They can recognize that the future of communication is social, and they will embrace opportunities to learn. So invest in them. Develop the people who have shown years of loyalty and dedication to you brand. They are the key to recovering $1.3 trillion in lost productivity.