10 Ideas To Keep Your Social Team Motivated

Working with teams on countless social marketing and PR projects internally, with clients and even random ideas purely for fun has given me an appreciation for keeping everyone motivated and interested in what they’re doing. In fact it’s tough for me to recall an ultra-successful project that occurred in a situation without a majority of the team motivated and passionate about what they were working on.

You could have a truly brilliant group but if they aren’t motivated, so what? They aren’t going to be in the right mindset to win. In social marketing and PR this is especially important because everything is going to be shared publicly. And keeping the motivation going is critical because you’re no longer working in bursts, but rather over a continuum long-term.

With that in mind, following are 10 ideas specifically for social projects to keep your team motivated and interested:

1. Develop feedback mechanisms (and actually use them)


A lot of companies talk about providing feedback to their team on social participation. Many will actually start out by doing this – but it’s something I commonly see slide as time goes on. This is a sad state of affairs, because closing the loop by providing feedback is always a motivator for those who take pride in their work.

I’ve done this with teams I’ve worked with even in situations it’s not my domain because I’ve seen the work produced by those who both anticipate and receive the right kind of feedback. Simply put, it’s higher quality. Research by social scientists Dan Ariely and Daniel Pink support this too. Both qualitative and quantitative feedback should be given to motivate all different personalities.

2. Only hire new team members that are a fit culturally

When growing a social team, remember that they don’t just work together internally, but also interact publicly and coordinate efforts to build a community. The wrong person on a social team could not only be a waste a resources, it could hurt the motivation of everyone. To solve this involve the entire group in the hiring process to allow for a collective decision.

A study by the University of Washington: Rotten To The Core: How Workplace ‘Bad Apples’ Spoil Barrels Of Good Employees published in brief at Science Daily reinforces the importance of keeping your organization made up of those who fit together:

Look around any organization and chances are you’ll be able to find at least one person whose negative behavior affects the rest of the group to varying degrees. So much so, say two University of Washington researchers, that these “bad apples” are like a virus to their teams, and can upset or spoil the whole apple cart.

…Felps and Mitchell define negative people as those who don’t do their fair share of the work, who are chronically unhappy and emotionally unstable, or who bully or attack others. They found that a single “toxic” or negative team member can be the catalyst for downward spirals in organizations. In a follow-up study, the researchers found the vast majority of the people they surveyed could identify at least one “bad apple” that had produced organizational dysfunction.

3. Create a 20 percent time

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a 20% time, it’s a simple concept popularized by Google:

The 20 percent time is a well-known part of our philosophy at Google, enabling engineers to spend one day a week working on projects that aren’t necessarily in our job descriptions. You can use the time to develop something new, or if you see something that’s broken, you can use the time to fix it.

If you have the right social marketing team they are going to be highly interested in experimenting.  In fact, they are already going to be doing this personally. To provide the time to do this with others not only helps keep them motivated and thinking creatively, you may find some of the most successful work gets produced here.

Many have noted the benefits of 20% time for increasing innovation and Twitter similarly followed suit this year.  These companies need to keep their team members motivated to continue to dominate the market. Your company is not so different – at least, if you want to attract motivated team members and maintain their spirit long-term.

4. Allow team members to keep their own presence

Forrester Research banned their own team members from blogging. I don’t care what their talking points about this are – this move had to have been demotivational for those passionate about the industry who had blogs.  As Cory O’Brien noted in a post on the subject:

Giving every analyst at Forrester the option of having a blog at blogs.forrester.com makes sense, but to REQUIRE them to post there does not, especially when bloggers like Jeremiah Owyang have shown that bloggers can write outside of a Forrester controlled property and still promote the company that they work for. (Just look through this link for an example of how it can be done well)

To conclude, I think it would have been smart to put guidelines in place for what and how analysts can blog outside of Forrester controlled properties, but to require that they either write on a blog that Forrester controls, or to not blog at all sets a bad precedent, and I hope one that your clients choose not to follow.

Forrester is in a unique position to be able to do this, (I still don’t agree with the decision) and I don’t recommend you follow in their footsteps. I can’t imagine a larger de-motivator for any of your team than to cut them off from their own communities they have built over years of effort. Simply put, if you are hiring good social marketing and PR pros, they are going to be  nurturing their own community outside of their employer. If someone is truly interested in something they are pursuing it personally not just professionally.

The Forrester example above is blogging, specifically – but banning team members from keeping any of their own communities (whether a blog, a forum, whatever) is going to hurt their motivation. The benefits of embracing personal projects go beyond motivation too – companies and individuals with their own communities have a symbiotic relationship.

5. Lead from the front (and don’t manage in the traditional sense)

Your team should function as just that, a team. However there should still be someone leading the team – setting an example, inspiring everyone else and functioning as both strategist and tactician. Yes, your leaders should be out there participating too, not just sitting in their ivory towers. Social leadership requires that. A simple analogy for this (and just one style of leadership) could be for your leader to be the Jack Bauer of your company.

Without anyone leading and pushing the team to grow you’re leaving motivation to chance. Leaders should be easily accessible and, ultimately power distribution should feel horizontal, not vertical. After all, good ideas can come from all directions and ensuring all team members feel their ideas are being heard is a requisite to keep them motivated.

Further, your leaders should also be doing just that: leading, not managing. As Seth Godin notes on the subject in his book Tribes:

Managers manage by using the authority the factory gives them.  You listen to your manager or you lose your job.  A manager can’t make change because that’s not his job.  His job is to complete tasks assigned to him by someone else in the factory.

Leaders, on the other hand, don’t care very much for organizational structure or the official blessing of whatever factory they work for.  They use passion and ideas to lead people as opposed to using threats and bureaucracy to manage them.  Leaders must become aware of how the organization works, because this awareness allows them to change it.

6. Physical brainstorms/knowledge-sharing/gatherings

The best social web teams work fluidly in some kind of project management system (whether formalized or makeshift). However, physical meetings to brainstorm ideas, engage in knowledge-transfer and even simple gatherings for coffee to discuss the industry as a whole (or even non-industry ideas) are essential to keep everyone on the same page and motivated as a group.

It’s so easy to get caught up in your established workflows and forget about this, but make the time for everyone to get together physically with frequency and they’ll form lasting bonds and the right relationships to positively reinforce each other. With that said, don’t have meetings for the sake of having meetings and always reduce those which are unproductive. Think through why and how you want to bring your group together and be open to evolving that as you go forward.

7. Have specific objectives, reward and recognize success

Does your organization have specific objectives from social? Not just the general “become a leader in industry X” but specific metrics you’re looking to increase? Have you analyzed your analytics to know what types of content get shared most and what traffic sources convert best? If yes, awesome, then you should be able to assign specific metrics your social team is accountable for.

Metrics keep people motivated if:

  1. The upper management team understands/appreciates them and how they play into business objectives
  2. Team members know how to move the needle on specific metrics they are accountable for

Don’t just aimlessly chase a bunch of different KPIs, because what will happen is the social team will celebrate success and no one else will understand why this is good. Education up top about how social metrics impact business and an appreciation for the effort combined with a focus by the team on impacting metrics that matter is a recipe for success.

Further, the team’s success should be rewarded and recognized. If they aren’t producing ideal results yet, the good news about having specific goals means everyone will still be motivated because they’ll know how far off they are and push to get close. And a situation where a social marketing team is getting close to goals is always better than not having a clear understanding of what success looks like. With that said, always ensure the numbers you want are realistic and realize projecting web analytics with 100% accuracy is not really possible (although I’ve worked with teams where we were always within a few % points, so it’s somewhat reasonable to project loosely).

8. Attitude matters

Negative or uncaring attitudes by some group members can poison and hurt the motivation of others, and positive and encouraging attitudes can enable it. The attitude of your entire team matters. Mindsets are infectious and you’ll win or lose based on the aggregate attitude of your group. This can be addressed in the hiring phase – ensure you’re building a positive-minded team. But positive attitudes can and should be nurtured long term. This is advice not just for social team members but your organization as a whole.

The Telegraph notes the findings of Harvard Medical School sociologist Dr Nicholas Christakis. He and his team analyzed 53,228 social connections between 5,124 individuals over time. They found a happy friend increased the odds of someone being happy by 15 percent – but that a friend of a friend boosted the chance by about 10 percent, and a friend of a friend of a friend by about six per cent. Emotions go in both directions – so ensure that the right mindsets are being spread.

9. Embrace failure

In fact, social teams should go a step further and in fact get organized around making mistakes. Failure is always an option because even when you fail you still in a sense succeed. This is because in social marketing you are constantly getting data which can actually be helpful for future success. Instead of worrying about failure – embrace it, learn from it and iterate quickly.

Make it known to your team that it is OK to fail and get them comfortable with it. This transforms failure from something negative that can put a team member in a downward spiral into an organic part of the process.

Research director Peter Norvig notes why failure is a good thing:

If you’re a politician, admitting you’re wrong is a weakness, but if you’re an engineer, you essentially want to be wrong half the time. If you do experiments and you’re always right, then you aren’t getting enough information out of those experiments. You want your experiment to be like the flip of a coin: You have no idea if it is going to come up heads or tails. You want to not know what the results are going to be.

10. Create an agile, friction-free environment

Create an open environment between team members (including leaders) and don’t force a hierarchy for discussions and sharing feedback. Keep communication open and fluid and your team will communicate better with each other. Too many obstacles will force work in isolation as opposed to collaboratively.

A friction-free environment keeps everyone motivated because they can quickly share problems and implement solutions before an issue escalates. The social web natively embraces a friction-free workflow – to create a flow internally with too much friction both hinders results and can cause frustration for your team.

And agility actually matters both internally and externally. As I shared in a post at Online Marketing Blog on the subject of agility:

What makes real-time compelling is the immediacy of information, and consumers are being trained to demand content from media, businesses and each other instantaneously.  Agility is the only option here – and if you can become even slightly more agile than competitors, you can position yourself ahead of them with ideas, products and content time and time again.

Embracing agility externally helps keep your team motivated too because they will feel trusted and empowered to participate in the most effective manner possible.

This is just a short-list – what else do you see as vital to keep your social team motivated?

image credit: various artists from Shutterstock