This is a time of synergy: Viral is the new normal, everyone is a brand (whether they know it or not), and smart organizations are turning to employee advocacy. They’re leveraging the selling power of their most valuable spokespeople: employees. This vibrant interconnection between employers and employees is enabled by the new order of social media, among other forces. A global study of some 2,300 employees (ages 18–65) found that 50% of employees shared something on social media about their employer.
In this prevailing social, mobile and transparency culture, we’re blessed with endless access to information and image, and just as endless opportunities to use it. There’s always something to share, be it positive or negative: it can go either way. Based on circumstances, the synergy between employer and employee as brand advocate is a nice juicy handout; not only do we get people to work for us, we get them to rep us, too. But it’s a marketing dream that’s only as dreamy as you are able to make it. It’s only going to thrive if organizations know how to maximize the potential.
Five things to consider:
Let them. Everyone wants to stand out, and in these mobile social times, we are what we post. Everyone is out there building a personal brand: blogging, tweeting, doing the Facebook thing, writing, commenting, posting, or reviewing. Or all of the above: it is rare indeed to find someone who is not weighing in, though certainly some of us are better at it than others. Companies that consider every employee a potential brand ambassador are playing to far better odds.
Be open. A year and change ago, this post by a millennial on how to build a personal brand was pretty much cutting edge; within a few months, not so much. Here’s another reality: social is constantly morphing, and employees tend to use their own preferred online assets, not yours. So just because a 40-year-old manager doesn’t understand the impact of Snapchat, that doesn’t mean the savviest 20-something employees don’t. The site’s got more visitors (23%) than both Twitter (21%) and LinkedIn (20%), and in the past year, awareness of it among people age 12 and older has gone up from 60% to 71%. Caveat: nothing against 40-year-old managers.
Be transparent. Here’s where your company’s policy of genuine transparency will really pay off. It’s all about trusting people to speak for you, trusting them with information, trusting their judgment and acumen. Employees have to feel empowered enough to want to speak up, which also means hearing what they want to say. They need to feel like they’re free to choose to represent the brand or not as well: you can’t, and don’t want to, require a plastered on smile. LinkedIn research also found that 61% of LinkedIn members who follow your organization are ready, willing, and able to act as your brand ambassadors. And we know that employees garner more trust than entities, so let them.
Share. Confidence is key with employee advocates; if they don’t feel like they know what the organization is doing, they can’t advocate with enough authority — or candor. Make sure your employees are truly privy to what’s happening, and activate them to be able to share that message as well. That same global survey (by Weber Shandwick) found that 39% of those employees have shared something positive and complimentary about their employer. What does it take to get that number higher? Give them more to say. If you want employees to invest their own personal brand in your brand, then build that bridge. They need to be privy, feel on the inside, in order to become engaged, not just with your brand, but with its success.
Measure. Is it working? There are countless ways to find out. You need to be looking for a range of key performance indicators (KPIs), including social leads, reach, mentions, and engagement. Use metrics that are powerful and agile to track the information you need to track, and also the trajectory of a campaign. Track who’s participating, who’s really taking the ball and running with it, and where. Then you can take the successes and focus on them, refining the program with meaningful data. Once again, it’s analytics that really crystallize the power of this synergy between employer and employee.
The power of employee advocates is unlimited, and it dovetails beautifully into the new perception of work as an investment not only in hours, but in engagement. But like anything in our business, we have no idea how long it’s going to last, and no metrics to predict that — yet. But I met someone who was thrilled about his company’s new program to measure KPI. And no, he wasn’t paid to tell me about it. Which is why, I think, he was so happy to – and I was certainly thrilled to listen.
A version of this was first posted on Forbes.com