Businesses pour an incredible amount of time and budget into creating positive buzz on social media. While tweeting, liking and sharing have been largely the domain of marketing and social media teams, more companies are encouraging their employees to become brand ambassadors using their personal social networks.
It’s called employee advocacy, which is not a new concept, but adding the social media component has amplified the effects. What makes the employee voice so powerful? Employees have more credibility than the CEO on social media when it comes to the company’s work environment (48% versus 19%), business practices and crises (30% versus 27%), according to the 2016 Edelman Trust Barometer, the global communications marketing firm’s annual trust and credibility survey. The survey respondents also stated that, on social media and content-sharing sites, they’re far more trusting of family and friends (78%) than a CEO (49%).
Culture Drives Advocacy
The idea behind employee advocacy is that employees are so impassioned and excited about their company’s products, culture and workplace, they will actively talk to others about it, encourage them to buy the company’s products or apply for a job, says Christopher Hannegan, Edelman’s executive vice president, U.S. Practice Chair, Employee Engagement.
Naturally, employee advocacy is rooted in the culture. “You have to have an engaged workforce before you can expect employees to go outside of the company and start talking favorably about what it’s like to work there and how great the products are,” Hannegan says. “Employees need to understand and feel good about where the company is heading, their role within the company, what they can do to make a difference, and they need to have a good relationship with their manager.”
There are a variety of checklists, assessments and surveys to help companies to determine the drivers of employee engagement, and gauge the current level of engagement within their workforce. You can also look at the current buzz about your company online. For U.S. companies, Hannegan recommends the website Glassdoor, which offers a database of company reviews by employees about the work environment, interview process, salaries, benefits and CEO approval ratings. “Looking at those statistics will give you a pretty good sense about whether it is a healthy culture,” he says.
Exit interviews are also a good indicator of whether employees will be open to and feel positive about an advocacy program, or if you should focus on fixing core culture issues first.
John White agrees that there must be a high level of trust within the culture. In companies with secretive or fear-based climates, employees typically are afraid to share content, or they may have been told that they cannot engage in social media or mention the company on their personal social networks. “It boils down to a lack of trust between upper management and the employees,” says White, chief marketing officer at Social Marketing Solutions, a firm that specializes in online branding. “They don’t trust their employees to be the experts, or to advocate their brand on social media.”
Getting companies to recognize their employees as thought leaders and advocates comes down to a paradigm shift in culture, he says, adding that the shift has to start with company executives. “They have to be the ones who campaign for employee advocacy, and they have to actively participate in order for it to work at the company level,” he says. “Once they start the process, then it can be implemented at different levels of the company.”
A mindset change also needs to take place within the rank-and-file. There is often a disconnect on the employees’ side, White says. “Employees don’t realize the impact they can have. By simply liking, tweeting or sharing a blog post written by the CEO or content that is on the company website, it gets more people to read it and to engage with it.”
For instance, White recalls working with one client who was interested in creating culture around employee advocacy. To get the employees thinking about the value of their social networking activity, he asked them how many times they had posted comments on Facebook about their favorite sports team. Next, he asked how many times they had posted content from their company site on their Linkedin account.
“Then I asked them to think about which one they posted more frequently. One person admitted to a ratio of 100-to-1 in favor of sports posts on Facebook over company-related posts on LinkedIn,” he explains. “To make my point, I asked them how many times their favorite sports team had paid their mortgage, help put their kids through college, or bought them dinner out on a Friday night. I could sense that they began to see social media in a different light. Many of them confessed to having their priorities screwed up. They realized that their social media activities were doing more to line the pockets of wealthy athletes and powerful franchise owners than to help the very people that were providing them with a paycheck every two weeks.”
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