By Tom Condon, RPA, FMA
Published in the July 2012 issue of Today’s Facility Manager
With billions of individual users, social media is all the rage. Experts predict it will be the dominant form of mass communication in the near future. But social media is not just for communicating with friends and relatives. Increasingly, businesses, governments, and other large organizations are realizing that social media provides an incredibly effective tool for communicating with customers, citizens, and employees.
One of the biggest challenges of being a facility manager (fm) is communication. Fms are responsible for facilities that can house hundreds or thousands of people, and serving those customers requires effective communication. This can be extremely difficult, especially in larger facilities with multiple locations.
In the old days, fms could photocopy a notice, post it at entrances, and distribute it to departments with full confidence people would see it and be informed. But today’s workforce is more virtual and fluid; people can be working at multiple locations in hoteling environments, working from home, or traveling, so it’s much more difficult to communicate with them.
Fortunately, the same technologies that enable the location-less virtual workforce also provide fms with tools for easy communication. Some forward thinking fms are now using Twitter to communicate with their occupants. Facilities are starting to post Facebook pages with information about facility operations, including rules and policies, contact information, and special events. Fms who have done this have found that the number of calls and e-mails they get is reduced, because people can find the information they need online. And when fms announce unplanned events, they can now send tweets that can reach hundreds or thousands of customers in seconds.
This ability to disseminate information rapidly can be especially valuable in emergency situations. For example, one fm sent a tweet to alert occupants that a tornado had been spotted nearby. This communication got through even though the power in the facility was out (and the phone system was useless).
But social media has some challenges. First, fms have to make people aware there is a Facebook page or a Twitter account if they are expected to use it. Unfortunately, this first step will probably need to be done the old-fashioned way—by telling group leaders, e-mailing employees, and posting signs. One fm promoted her Facebook page by giving away coupons for free lunches for the first 50 people who “liked” the facility’s page.
If you want a presence on Facebook, remember that Profiles are for individuals, and Pages are for businesses and organizations. Profiles have some functionalities that Pages do not, like the ability to send a Friend request. Facebook restricts this functionality so businesses do not send mass friend requests. Pay attention to Facebook’s policies so you are not kicked out!
Confidentiality is also an issue with social media. Remember, you are communicating with the entire world, which means everyone can see what you are posting! Do not use social media for information that is considered proprietary or sensitive.
And as with all online activities, you should be aware that hacking is a real threat that could cause tremendous harm if a malicious individual gains control of your organization’s social media tools. You should be extremely careful when choosing passwords. Using your pet’s name, the kind of car you drive, or the name of the street you live on may be easy to remember, but those are just too obvious. Create a password that is a string of gibberish that includes letters and numbers and is next to impossible to guess. It will also be resistant to the more common hacking tools found online. It may be difficult to remember, but when facility safety could be compromised, it is worth the effort.
Another key value of social media is that it’s a great way to learn and network. On LinkedIn, there are dozens of facility-related groups where fms share their stories, insights, challenges, and everyday life. Just click on Groups and search using keywords like “facility” or “facilities management.” LinkedIn also allows you to post information about yourself, like your job history, interests, and special skills. Think of it as a Facebook profile for business.
In a digitally connected world, the way we communicate is changing with smartphones, tweets, and online presences supplanting paper, phones, and even e-mail as the dominant methods of communication. And the people who occupy our facilities are coming to expect us to communicate in the same way they do. So fms must stay current by using the social media tools that are available; they’re easy, free, and a great way to stay in touch with the people you serve.