by Jennifer Lumba | September 03, 2013
Do you keep a tight rein on your employees? If so, stop. Research suggests that employees that have control over how, when, and where they work tend to be healthier and more productive.

Note that flexibility doesn't always have to come with a work-at-home arrangement. Small acts of trust can be just as effective. One idea: Set workers free on the Internet. Give them social tools to more frequently engage with everyone connected to the business -- whether it's in-house team members, customers with support questions, prospects with sales questions, or friends checking in to say hello.

Embrace these sorts of conversations and the chaos they create. After all, brands are built by workers who take the time to convert skeptics into fans. Social media puts your business front and center with these naysayers. Don’t be afraid to engage them.

Here are 10 tips for using public and in-house networks to unleash your workers to become brand champions:

1. No in-house meetings. Don't insulate employees you want to be engaging with the wider world. Set them free instead. Use social media-powered group chats and provide guidelines for connecting with customers, partners, and prospects online. Encourage creative engagement. Track activity monthly and provide feedback as necessary.

2. Get the executive team on social media! Teams expect executives to lead by example. Don't disappoint them by allowing management to preach from the sidelines. Give leaders their own social media accounts and ask them to dedicate at least a few hours a week to online engagement.

3. Incentivize engagement. More than ever, social media has become the new storefront. Customers have come to view businesses through the lens of Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and so on. Generously give to those who get online to solve customer problems, answer questions, encourage teammates, share research, and the like.

4. Publish successes. Help workers understand how their efforts might pay off by cultivating and spreading stories of success online. Publish new cases as often as possible -- monthly, ideally -- and honor workers who consistently outperform in order to give the rest of your team something to strive for.

5. Don't standardize. Give workers creative control over their tools for accessing and engaging with social media. Don't dictate. Instead, develop a standards guide that tells workers what you expect and the outcomes you're seeking. Let them find a niche that exploits their own strengths while satisfying corporate needs.

6. Measure. If you've been specific about communicating to your team the year's aims, then you should measure and report progress internally at least quarterly on a company-wide scale. At the team level, ask each of your managers to solicit social media goals from staff. Measure progress at that level, too. Are workers living up to their commitments?

7. Don't wait for feedback. If a commitment is proving unrealistic, or if a worker's handling of social media tools strays far from your guidelines then say so. Don't wait to offer constructive feedback. Social media is a real-time phenomenon, after all, and isn't well-suited for one-off quarterly "check ins."

8. Reward creatively. Once you've specified your hopes, goals, and numerical targets, reward those who help you outperform. Don't standardize. Make every reward personal by allowing direct managers to choose the best gift. Focus on something meaningful by rewarding according to each worker's interests and concerns.

9. Encourage openness. Let customers see you by engaging them in the wilds of public social media. Be similarly transparent in your online discussions with partners. Secrecy is always going to be necessary for some operations, of course. Just try to limit what you keep hidden. Customers and workers are always more likely to engage with, and remain loyal to, businesses that operate transparently.

10. Respond! Treat social media as you would any other immediate medium. Don't let questions, comments, and criticisms go unanswered. Mix speed into your incentive program so that workers know you value action -- even if the initial tweet or post fails to answer a question fully.

In the end, workers want trust. Give it to them, and the get out of the way. You might be surprised by how quickly they deliver exactly what you want.

Jennifer Lumba is the chief marketing officer of Rideau Recognition Solutions. Built on state-of-the-art technology, Rideau’s employee recognition and customer loyalty programs change the way companies recognize employee service and achievement, reward individual and team performance, strengthen customer relationships, and create brand loyalty. Lumba can be reached at [email protected].