Friday, May 9, 2014

Execs, It's Time to Face Your Social Media Fears

It’s no secret—your employees are talking about your company, and they have been for years. Word of mouth is nothing new, but today’s digital and social tools magnify, for better or worse, the impact your employees can have. As a Master’s candidate at Northwestern University, I came across two articles recently that are must reads for executives who aren’t sure how to channel employees’ energy in the social media area.  

In a recent study, “Employees Rising: Seizing the Opportunity in Employee Activism,” Weber Shandwick found that half (50%) of employees share employer-related content on social media in the form of posts, pictures, or videos. The good news from this study:  20% of your workforce is likely acting on behalf of your company as “employee activists,” and another third have great potential to. The bad news, though: Only 42% of employees can actually describe to others what their company does, and even less can recount their company’s goals. So, while companies are eager to capitalize on this “employee activist movement,” as Weber Shandwick calls it, it seems abundantly clear that a huge portion of employees are unprepared for the brand ambassador job in this social era.  The idea of thousands of employees running around tweeting and posting inaccurate or unfavorable information for investors, customers, and prospects to see is indeed a scary prospect for any executive.


But the shift towards embracing employee use of social media is actually a good thing, as Weber Shandwick and others, including Rebecca Feldman of Linkedin, have noted.  Your employees represent major untapped source of brand-building power. Feldman recently shared several tips to help companies trying to make this shift. In order to begin leveraging the power of employees as social brand ambassadors, she stresses that companies need to create a corporate culture that is accepting and supportive of employee participation on social media.

Based on my own communications experience as well as insights from these two recent articles, I recommend the following three tips as a starting point for executives who are debating how to tackle the opportunities and fears of employee use of social media.

  •  Invest in Training Your Employees.  Chances are that your company is not exclusively comprised of Millennials that eat, sleep, and breathe social media. Be mindful that your employees, even Millennials, will have varying degrees of knowledge and comfort. If formal training isn’t in the realm of possibilities, identify a group of employees who naturally gravitate toward the subject and ask them to share tips with their teams through informal emails, team meetings or informal training sessions.
  • Make it Simple. As those unfortunate findings from both Weber Shandwick and Gallup demonstrate, your employees aren’t as knowledgeable about your company and its brand promise as you might hope, so one of the best defenses is to arm them with simple, approved content that can be shared. This can be as simple as sending an email that includes a few key messages about the latest initiative and suggested posts that they can simply copy and paste for Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. This approach will help the company establish a consistent voice and eliminate any confusion about what’s appropriate to share.
  • Trust Them. While it may be necessary and wise for companies to have some kind of official policy regarding appropriate representation of the company on social media, those policies should not be the primary focus of your trainings or communications. Let go of that instinct to control, and manage from a position of trust, rather than fear. As long as you are clear with your employees about what is appropriate, they will rise to the occasion and act accordingly. And, on the off chance that an employee goes rogue, you can rely on one of those “employee activists” to help reinforce your corporate values.

As Weber Shandwick has shown, employees are already talking about their companies on social media, so it’s time for you to face your fears, execs, and embrace the potential of the situation at hand. By creating a positive social culture that seeks to proactively empower and educate employees, companies on the forefront of this movement stand to gain a considerable competitive advantage in this world where electronic world of mouth reigns as king.

Keri Garman is a marketing communications professional with expertise in strategic communications, content marketing, and digital social strategy. She is the former Marketing Director of Gallup’s Management Consulting Practice and is currently pursuing her Master’s in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University. 

Continue the conversation with Keri on Twitter @KeriEGarman.

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