A company’s best salespeople are its employees and their families. Their word of mouth can surpass the results of best-planned advertising dollars.
Erika Heald attests to these advocates’ success. A San Francisco-based marketing consultant, she focuses on helping technology and specialty food startups define their content marketing strategy. Her mission is to drive lead generation and customer loyalty.
“Employee brand advocacy is when your employees share your content and engage with the public on behalf of your brand,” Heald said.
“It’s also important to note that it’s entirely an optional, opt-in activity,” she said. “You can’t require employees to be brand advocates. You must earn it.”
Not every business owner gets the memo right away.
“I’ve worked with people whose point of view was if people didn’t want to share brand content, they shouldn’t work for the company,” Heald said. “Here’s the thing: Not every employee’s social audience is at all relevant to your biz.”
Not a numbers game
She also cautioned against worshiping statistics rather than appreciating individuals.
“We shouldn’t be so excited about the vanity metrics of re-shares and likes that we lose sight of it being important to reach the right audience, not just more people,” Heald said.
There are also drawbacks when workers are not that into their company.
“Sadly, despite their paychecks depending on it, it seems many employees don’t even care how their employer makes money,” Heald said.
“It definitely goes both ways,” she said. “I’ve worked places that had onboarding training — ‘How the Brand Makes Money’ — and others that kept employees in the dark about financials.”
Employees have the credibility to promote your brand. If a worker likes your products and services, they must be good.
“Consumer trust in brand advertising and messaging continues to decline while trust in word of mouth continues to increase,” Heald said.
“Your employees are front and center with your customers every day,” she said. “When you’ve activated them as advocates, you unlock a high-trust communication opportunity.”
More what you’d call guidelines
You don’t need social media guidelines so much as to encourage but to channel employee advocacy. Employees should know what you do along with your key messages.
“Especially in startups, there is an unspoken expectation from the marketing team that employees are expected to share company content and social,” Heald said. “But as research from Bambu by Sprout found, many employees don’t share brand content because they aren’t sure they are allowed to do so.
“Further, in some highly regulated industries, risk-adverse companies prohibit employees from talking about their band on social,” she said. “Clearly written brand guidelines can empower employees by making them feel comfortable sharing brand content and understanding where the guard rails are.”
Social media guidelines also keep workers from getting ahead of the news.
“Employees may be excited about a big sales win, but the client didn’t sign off on releasing their name,” Heald said. “Many employees wouldn’t think about that before sharing on social, but guidelines could address this.”
Nonprofit businesses can spark even greater advocacy.
“Given how many nonprofits are cause-related, it’s really likely your employees and their community feel strongly about your same causes,” Heald said.
Social media guidelines should include specific items.
“To drive employee brand advocacy, the guidelines need to be written to express more about what employees are encouraged to do, and less be a laundry list of things they can’t do,” Heald said.
“You hired smart people,” she said. “Your social media guidelines need to treat them as such.”
These are her must-have guideline elements:
- Why your brand is using social media.
- What kind of content your brand is creating and curating on social.
- How employees can act as social ambassadors.
- Any restrictions on employee social media use on the job and why.
- Do’s and don’ts for engaging with customers on social.
- Employee social media resources.
“Introduce social media guidelines early so employees get used to them and can ask about rationale,” Heald said. “It’s important to explain and not dictate so employees feel part of the process, enhancing their importance in the company.
“In addition to the obligatory all-staff email, ask department heads to mention the guidelines in team meetings,” she said. “Better yet, ask for five minutes to talk about them in those meetings.”
Time for review
These meetings should follow guidelines of their own.
“Provide an on-demand session where you walk through the guidelines,” Heald said. “Solicit questions that can accompany the meeting.
“Consider having social media office hours or lunch-and-learns for employees who want to sharpen their social media skills,” she said. “It’s a natural place to refer to the guidelines.”
Regular meetings also can include social media refreshers.
“The Fortune 500 companies I’ve worked at held them quarterly,” Heald said. “This is definitely the type of topic that would make the docket.”
New-employee on boarding can feature social media guideline orientation, but the information likely won’t resonate.
“Don’t think social media mentions during onboarding will take hold,” Heald said. “Employees are bombarded with info they won’t retain. Social media orientation has to be a continuing process in daily company life.
“Give the marketing team dedicated time in every new-employee onboarding or training to talk about social media,” she said. “Start with an overview of the company social media channels.”
Ask for questions
This is where the specialists can address specific topics.
“Walk the new employees through your social media guidelines and solicit any questions they may have,” Heald said. “Make sure to cover all your frequently asked questions as you make your way through it.
“Provide time during the session for attendees to update their LinkedIn profile with their new job title and employer,” she said. “Also encourage them to connect with each other on social.”
Heald also has written about new-employee onboarding to drive brand advocacy.
“Don’t assume people understand social media,” she said. “It’s not a universal language. Also assume that those who’ve done social media before have their own notions about what to do. Those are bad habits you need to adjust.
“You are always going to have one or more employees who is annoyed that you have guidelines,” she said. “Don’t let that deter you from moving forward.”
Guidelines on the job are one thing, but something else back home.
“The biggest issues occur when your guidelines come across as your trying to tell people how they can behave on social media when it’s not pertaining to work,” Heald said. “When I worked in an organization with highly restrictive social guidelines, I made sure I understood how to get around them, and I did.
“As a result, my social profiles never used my employer’s name,” she said.
Corporate overreach builds resentment.
“I’m a gamer and a blogger about things completely unrelated to my job,” she said. “I was given one set of guidelines that way overstepped around forums and message boards participation.”
Leaders who think employees should be left on their own on social media have poor public relations training. They should know the importance of speaking with one voice about corporate messages.
“If a leader’s point of view is we shouldn’t have social guidelines, you need to make them aware that it goes both ways,” Heald said. “If you don’t provide guidelines, you also can’t ask employees to take down content.
“I had one leader who didn’t want guidelines yet demanded employees un-share content he didn’t like because it mentioned a competitor,” she said. “That creates a bad work environment.”
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