Amy-Heiss

How Amy Heiss and her team at Charles Schwab put together an employee training module for good social media engagement in a heavily political climate

The idea of positioning social media training as a benefit of the firm as opposed to a requirement is something that Amy Heiss, VP of Marketing at Charles Schwab, has always considered.

“It’s a value we really wanted to place on social media, and we think it’s a life skill and a job skill,” said Amy. “So whenever we have a training course like this, we try to position it as a benefit.”

In the spring before the 2018 midterm elections, Amy and her team wanted to make sure their employees were able to adapt that skill to a politically-charged environment.

As a regulated company, Charles Schwab is required to monitor certain employee social media activity.

We had to take a strong stance on limited social media activity prior to the SNAP program launching. Our employees took that rule to heart and did not participate in social media on a broad scale, in some cases even for personal use. Amy Heiss
When the team noticed some employees were starting to engage more with content they considered to be political posts, they started developing the course.

According to Amy, the employees weren’t necessarily posting opinions — they were merely liking candidates or congratulating winners of primaries, which could have been interpreted as candidate or party affiliation.

“So, we decided over the summer that we needed to share with our employees some best practices and information about engaging in a political climate on social media,” said Amy.

When the team first began developing the course, they started out with their socially active financial advisors who interact most in social on behalf of the company.

“We have around 1,000 participants in our Social Networking Activation Program (SNAP), and we wanted to create the content for this group first. We also included a few employee advocates and corporate communications partners,” said Amy.

With the help of Senior Team Manager of Social Media Sean Carey and Managing Director of Social Networking Activation Stacey King, Amy set about defining the content and timing of the course.

Given Charles Schwab’s previous social media policy, Amy said that this task was more complicated than it seemed.

“It was only in November of 2016 when Schwab broadened a social media program that allowed more employees to participate in firm-sponsored social media usage. Prior to that, our firm policy limited employee posts about Schwab to philanthropic events or community service.”

It's a value we really wanted to place on social media, and we think it's a life skill and a job skill. Amy Heiss
“Because we are highly regulated and are required to archive and supervise any post that could be considered communications to the public about firm business, we had to take a strong stance on limited social media activity prior to the SNAP program launching. Our employees took that rule to heart and did not participate in social media on a broad scale, in some cases even for personal use.”

When the firm-sponsored social networking program launched, the social coaches assigned to help advisors grow their personal brands found that, in some cases, they were helping create personal LinkedIn and Facebook pages for employees who had not used those platforms in the past.

“So we had to approach this course thinking about what a social media user would need to be aware of if this was his or her first time in the social media space during an election,” Amy explained.

For Amy and her team, that meant a big focus on discernment, judgement, and critical thinking, especially when it came to content presented as news.

“Sean Carey was the key to the course’s success. He compiled the content, worked with our legal and compliance team members, and delivered the course to employees. He started our course with a media bias chart, which covered a spectrum of fact-based reporting and fabricated information,” said Amy. “The idea was to get them to see that every media outlet falls somewhere on that chart, and to be aware of how websites could skew information.”

We had to approach this course thinking about what a social media user would need to be aware of if this was his or her first time in the social media space during an election. Amy Heiss
Then, Sean went through the different resources that social users could trust when they saw something on a social platform and wanted to verify if it was true or not; sites like Snopes and Politifact.

“We wanted to start by educating them that not everything they see is true, and that they should do their own research,” explained Amy. “And we wanted to convey that research isn’t going to take too much of their time.”

According to Amy, it was important for them to build this background and scrutiny in their employees so they understood that when you like, share, or comment on posts that may not be true, it could impact your personal brand.

“We reminded them that liking or sharing something — especially on LinkedIn — goes out to their network and could impact trustworthiness,” Amy said.

Finally, they wanted to make sure their training provided useful strategies for political discourse on social media.

“Sean provided examples of a few options for engaging on social media during a political season ranging from remaining silent to providing positive merits of a position without demonizing the other side,” explained Amy.

Amy said it was also important for her team to drive home what impact employees’ social presence can have on their life at work — beyond just the instances of viral posts about an employee’s behavior creating backlash for the brand.

“We wanted to get across that what you post can create tension in the office that you never intended,” said Amy. “Obviously we don’t want to scare anyone out of posting, but as an employer, we want to make sure that our employees are aware of the personal impact social can have.”

The training itself was delivered in a 30-minute WebEx session.

Amy said, for this training, Sean’s creative work and facilitation style was invaluable to its success. Throughout the session, he created polls to engage their audience and keep them active in the conversation.

We reminded them that liking or sharing something -- especially on LinkedIn -- goes out to their network and could impact trustworthiness. Amy Heiss
“His first poll was voting for your favorite chips brand. He used red Doritos, blue Doritos, and green Lay’s in that initial poll, and it got over 90-percent participation right off the bat, so it was really beneficial to creating that initial responsiveness,” said Amy. “It can be difficult to get that level of engagement when your audience is participating from behind a computer screen.”

Amy also shared Sean’s clever design of how the poll seamlessly segmented the attendees into those who chose red, blue, green, or abstained — transitioning them into their discussion about the election.

Sean delivered the course a couple of times throughout election season, but her team also provided a recording for SNAP members who couldn’t attend live.

According to Amy, going through these steps can be especially crucial for other brands in regulated industries.

Amy said, “Courses like this can be good for any brand, whether they are regulated or not. Our team members appreciated seeing examples of content that was presented by sources they believed to be credible but turned out to be doctored images or video. Understanding how to consume content thoughtfully helped our social media users feel more confident in their online activities.”

“For a regulated brand like us, you have to be careful and really look at everything and monitor conversations carefully,” said Amy. “Trust is everything for us. We really want our participants in social media to be able to think critically about the content they are seeing in their News Feed and use good judgment before choosing to like/share/comment on posts. We want them only sharing or engaging in content that has proven to be reliable.”

Moving forward, Amy and her team are hoping to expand the course beyond their socially active financial advisors to impact even more of their employees.

“It’s important to reach as many people as we can,” said Amy. “We’re considering promoting the course to employees who are not be active in social on behalf of Schwab, but may have a personal Twitter or Facebook account.”

Obviously we don't want to scare anyone out of posting, but as an employer, we want to make sure that our employees are aware of the personal impact social can have. Amy Heiss
Though they wanted to start with the people whose social presences were sponsored by the firm — because they posed the greatest risk — Amy explained any employee has the capacity to hurt the brand if they aren’t given the right information.

For that, she is also planning to incorporate examples of what good engagement looks like to provide a better frame of reference for their employees. “Because, what you’re really teaching here is judgment, and it’s difficult to do that through slides in a WebEx,” she explained.

For anyone looking to put together a similar training at their organization, Amy stresses focusing on what information your audience needs most.

“Once you have that information, you can use your company code of conduct as a jumping off point into the digital world,” said Amy.

She also said, for anyone looking to do a course that creating a sense of community among your employee advocates can play a crucial role.

“They want programs like this, and they want them to grow and thrive at their company,” said Amy. “So if you can create this sense of community within your advocates and the resources you’re providing are beneficial, they’re going to be looking out for each other, and that comes back to you threefold.”

Amy Heiss has been a member of SocialMedia.org since 2017. You can follow her on LinkedIn.