How can I expand my company's participation in social media without too much risk?
If you're familiar with online shoe retailer Zappos, you might know a little bit about how it uses social media to build its brand online.
What you might not know is that its efforts aren't relegated to a handful of people in charge of online community-building on the web. Instead, Zappos encourages all its staff, from the CEO down, to have digital conversations about the brand; around 500 Zappos employees currently tweet.
Having an army of employees discussing your brand online might seem like a communications nightmare, given the chance that someone on your staff will post content or comments that reflect poorly on your company. But it's key to social-media success. With more than two billion tweets a month on Twitter and more than 500 million people clogging up Facebook, it's increasingly important for your social-media efforts to have mass. Here are a few simple strategies for going big with social media without taking big risks.
• Have a social-media policy.Before actively engaging in social media, write a document that outlines rules for participation for when employees are within the company's walls.
Don't try to control conversations; instead, create guidelines that encourage individuals to talk about the brand while warning them that you will be monitoring conversations and expect their input to be respectful.
In addition, advise them on what steps to take if they discover an online conversation that needs executive input. Share this policy with everyone electronically, but also post it inside your office for easy access.
• Invest in education. Many employees are curious about how all these new online tools work in the business and personal contexts. Even if it's just once a month, offer a lunch-and-learn session that can address issues such as Facebook etiquette or how to shoot a YouTube video. You'll want to equip your staff with the skills and knowledge they will need to be brand ambassadors online.
• Encourage social-media conversations. With the masses going online to help decide which products and services to buy, we now live in a world in which customers expect to find companies actively participating on the web.
Because the purchasing decisions of so many people are influenced by their perceptions of a company's culture, posting photos from within the office or shooting video profiles of company employees might be a good way to share what your brand is all about.
Whatever your strategy is, try to make this new way of interacting fun.
Amber MacArthur is Toronto-based co-founder of MGImedia.ca and author of Power Friending, a book on social media for business
What's the single biggest mistake salespeople make?
To use a baseball metaphor, the worst thing a salesperson can do is more pitching than catching. By that I mean the salesperson pitches the product before they've asked enough good questions and caught all the answers. But the temptation to pitch is hard to resist for many salespeople, because that's what they think they are there to do. Once they trip over that line, they are clearly on the offensive and rarely throttle back into the consulting role they should be in.
I would advise sales professionals to leave pitching where it belongs—in baseball—and think about themselves as doctors with patients. Doctors generally start an examination with broad questions and then narrow the focus until they isolate the problem. Only then do they provide a diagnosis and a remedy. It is usually a positive, considerate and friendly exchange that makes you confident you're in competent hands. And after the appointment, you generally feel better. That's how your want your clients to feel after meeting with you.
So, go on your next sales call with the mindset of a doctor, eager to diagnose. Spend more time catching answers to good questions and less time pitching the product. Trust the process, and it will reveal if and how your product can help the client do something better. And along the way, you will be building a valued, long-term relationship with your customer.
Harvey Copeman is president and CEO of the Canadian Professional Sales Association in Toronto
Are loyalty rewards taxable if they're earned on business expenses?
Loyalty rewards earned on business expenses are not taxable if the rewards accrue to the company and are used for corporate purposes. However, when employees earn rewards on business-related expenses that are reimbursed by their employer, use of the rewards could create tax consequences that many employees may not be aware of.
Prior to 2009, employees were required to self-report, on their personal tax returns, the value of benefits they received as a result of their participation in loyalty programs that accumulated from employment-related expenses. That policy was problematic, so last year the Canada Revenue Agency changed its position so that benefits are generally not taxable.
There there are still some situations in which such benefits might be taxable. If reward points are converted into cash, the amount received will be taxable. Employers cannot use loyalty rewards as a disguised form of remuneration, as this could be viewed as a means of tax avoidance. Here's an extreme example: a company allows an employee to pay for significant corporate costs using her own personal credit card and then allows her to keep the loyalty rewards from those purchases.
In most cases, corporate credit card points are used for business purposes, in which case, there is no personal benefit. However, if an employer allows an employee to use points generated from the use of a corporate credit card for personal purposes, the employer is required to report the value of the benefit on the employee's T4 slip in the year the points are used. What is that value? On merchandise, travel bookings and experiential award packages, it's the retail value of the item or package, plus applicable taxes; on charity rewards, it's the actual value of the donation; and on gift certificates, it's the face value of the certificate.
Jeff Llewellyn is president and managing director of corporate finance at Meyers Norris Penny LLP in Calgary
My company has a great product and does good things for its community, but my employees are still disengaged. What's wrong?
First, let's clarify what is meant by employee engagement. It's about more than employee satisfaction; rather, it's about the commitment of individuals to their own and the organization's success. Engagement suffers when employees do not sufficiently understand the relationship between the company's success and their own activities.
In many firms, this gap is due to poor performance-management programs (PMPs). Consider whether your firm employs these elements of engagement-enhancing PMPs:
• Clarity of goals. This can be achieved by developing personal objectives through discussion with the employee.
• Job support. This includes giving employees tools, information and training that are planned through the performance-management process.
• Employee development plans. Building skills, knowledge and capabilities will support a more engaged workforce.
• Regular feedback. This is critical, but it doesn't come naturally to most managers. Feedback should not be time-consuming and doesn't have to happen every day, but it should be frequent and timely. Managers should look for teaching moments and capture them.
Looking at your PMP from an engagement perspective is what makes the value of the process clear for all parties. And it addresses the alignment challenge for the organization.
Carmine Domanico is president of Cristal International, an HR-strategy consultancy in Brampton, Ont.
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