"Click this link." Five years ago that was about the extent of the finesse the EMC Corporation had on social media.
"We just weren't really sure what our voice was and what the strategy was behind how we were going to use these tools," said Thom Lytle, EMC's director of social business. However, as of the mid 2000s, EMC was an early adopter of what would later be a trend amongst forward-thinking companies — turning employees into valuable resources on social media.
In the past year, EMC launched its latest social media initiative called Social Media University. So far, it's comprised of 20 on-demand courses ranging from more simple topics on privacy and platforms, to more complicated topics like social advertising.
"It's something we had shied away from for many of years, for a number of reasons, the biggest of which was it was extremely daunting to think about how do you train an entire organization around social media," he said.
Social Media University is also set up for two tracks, one being social media for those who want to be general social media advocates for the company, and the other for those running branded EMC accounts.
Amongst those taking the first track, Lytle said there are employees and teams that are setting goals every quarter and making it through the courses in high numbers.
That's a good thing. Since EMC executives have widely encouraged employees to get on social media, the company also needed to make sure that they do it correctly.
"It's a little dangerous when you tell folks to get social and they don't understand that some of their views could reflect badly on EMC," Lytle said. "They need to have some understanding of the techniques behind these channels and platforms to make sure their content is being seen and growing their audience, and all of those basic best practices."
In terms of keeping the program up to date, Lytle said they have time and budget set aside every six months to go back and make any updates necessary. If a drastic change happens on one of the platforms, then they have to move quickly.
And moving quickly was exactly what EMC had to do right before Social Media University launched because that was when Twitter announced it's redesign.
"We took that into account in the way that we constructed [the courses], so the way we set them up is very flexible in that we can drop in, modify any of the visuals within the training," Lytle said.
In the future they hope to add more courses specific to various roles.
While revamping the EMC social strategy, Lytle's also turned to social analytics, an area he felt was "misunderstood and un-utilized."
"I wanted them to understand that if they're going to journey into social media, using social media to support their campaigns and initiatives, they know how to measure whether or not it was successful or whether or not it's resonating," he said.
The social media team now has a sub-team focused on social media analytics.
EMC's plunge into social started — according to a 2008 white paper EMC wrote about its strategy — when the company noticed a "groundswell" as social networks started to become a part of business conversations, and more and more employees were using them.
"Early on, we decided that our process of designing and implementing our social media strategy should reflect the ethos of 2.0: open, inclusive and transparent. We would engage people internally who were interested in the topic, get their views and enlist their help," the paper reads.
What came out of extensive planning and discussions, covering not only the "how" of putting together some type of internal social platform, but the "why," was EMC One.
"EMC One was the place where our employees started to get some practice, basically, conversing and collaborating in this new format," Lytle said. He sees the platform as being key in helping build social media proficiency early on for EMC employees. They'd be able to go to EMC and do things like create groups and hold discussions around topics, fostering a new kind of collaboration.
Beyond an in-depth dissection of the platform's rules and governance, EMC had to plan for battling the mentality among the employees that spending time on a social network would be seen as goofing off at work.
"We made sure that we sent a clear message that the management of the corporation saw using the social platform as 'leadership behavior' - a new way of doing things. We repeatedly sent multiple messages using different levels of authority to encourage people to experiment and engage," the white paper reads.
In the long term, is might have been a crucial step as they worked toward mobilizing an active employee base on social media.
A sprawling problem
One of the challenges EMC deals with is what Lytle calls "social sprawl," which is the unchecked growth of branded social media accounts.
"We have 100s of branded accounts... and for a long period of time, they just kept growing and we didn't really have the ability to or really a strategy to manage that growth," Lytle said. He said it's not an uncommon problem for companies the size of EMC.
Part of the problem with having so many accounts is it spreads the brand message very thin. When EMC did implement their strategy, they got rid of more than 100 accounts in the first six months.
"It's a bit of a joke on our team, we would celebrate every time we would close an account because we just had so many here," he said.
Beyond shutting down accounts, they also found a way to redirect some of the impulse to create the accounts in the first place by creating a content management system where employees can submit items they would like to see posted to social media.
"For a while, we were the kind of company where you needed to know the dude who had the credentials to the Twitter account and maybe you send him an email and there's no best practices," Lytle said. Now he looks at the system as a way to show employees the right channels to get out their content. It also allows for tweaks to the wording of the social media copy to better fit it with EMC's style.
This process has yielded several takeaways for EMC. For one, they found their social media voices and realized it's strongest when it's run by one person instead of having one person run a Twitter page, and another run a Facebook page.
Another takeaway, Lytle said is that they're not always right. In most cases, persuading Lytle to approve a new social initiative without data is an extremely difficult proposition. In some cases, he said, a person's idea might work better than what previous data says.
"I'm always interested in hearing ideas from teams around how they want to use social media and that's how we grow our perspective on use cases across the company is by making sure we're open to discussing and brainstorming around all the other crazy and cool ways it's being used across the company," Lytle said.
Erin Carson has nothing to disclose. She doesn't hold investments in the technology companies she covers.
Erin Carson is a Staff Reporter for CNET and a former Multimedia Editor for TechRepublic.