Ever since social media became the frame for our online lives over a decade ago, brands have been plugged directly into the minds of consumers. This access has afforded powerful opportunities for collaboration and conversation, with some companies crediting their growth exclusively to social media. However, it’s still felt a little like the unruly wild west for many brands as far as the participation of own employees is concerned. It’s a near impossible space to police and monitor, especially for large teams, and the high potential for employee-generated mishaps has resulted in strict, company-wide social media policies that limit what an employee is allowed to say as a representative of a brand. “Do this. Don’t say that. Keep your mouth shut on Facebook and LinkedIn, and for goodness sake, don’t say a word on Twitter.”
But, at the end of the day, trust is a golden commodity for any large corporation — and who better to help you earn that trust than the people who work for you?
It’s easy to forget that sometimes your most influential partners — your employees— are right in your own backyard. If you’re a large corporation, that backyard could be many acres far and wide.
Consider this: customers are 16 times more likely to read a post from a friend about a brand than from the brand itself. Think about your own Facebook habits. How often do you read status updates from a brand? How about never, right? Then think about the Facebook algorithm. How likely is it that your brand post will even get noticed without putting a huge chunk of change behind it? How about almost never, right?
The 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer was a huge wake-up call to large corporations. It showed that only half of the general population had any trust at all in companies to do the right thing — yet many companies are doing the right thing and that message is not getting out. This is no diss of the general news media, but “goodwill” corporate stories don’t often end up on the front page of the New York Times. Equifax-sized scandals do.
So where to turn to tell the positive stories of your brand? Employees.
Don’t get me wrong, if employee morale is in the pits, you probably don’t want them talking to the public. But what if you are a responsible, purpose-driven brand with a robust CSR initiative employing thousands of individuals and contributing to the economy? Wouldn’t you want those thousands of individuals singing your praises from the front lines?
Studies show that employees are more than twice as trusted as a CEO, or senior executive but, when it comes to public speaking, we often leave it to the approved manager or executive. Spoiler alert! Executives may not be as relatable to the average person. In fact, nearly half of all people believe a company’s employees rank higher in the trust department than a firm’s PR department, CEO, or founder. Take this conversation to social media and the opportunity to generate positive sentiment and trust skyrockets.
Dell is an inspiring example. They lead the way in 2011 by leaning in to platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as tools for sparking more impactful conversations and reaching a wider audience via their employees. With a strong focus on employee empowerment, they launched a formal social media program for its workforce, providing social media training to individual employees interested in participating. Their ultimate goal was to harness the energy and excitement of their employees, so they developed a space for them to discover, curate and share interesting content. And because Dell understood that company success comes from individual success, they knew that, if their employees were inspired to share internally, that content would make it out to the general public, too. Their program is now 10,000 employees strong.
Starting an internal employee advocacy program is not for lightweights and it probably should not come out of the HR department (I could devote a whole blog post to the why behind that but suffice it to say that the word TRUST would figure heavily into the equation).
You really have to be purposeful about what you are encouraging your employees to share, develop a system that encourages that, and make sure your policies align with what you are asking.
Remember when Amazon led the way in letting customers rate and review products on their site? Large retail brands were gob-smacked. I imagine the conversation internally looked something like this: “Holy Magoley! If we let our customers rate our products, what if they say something bad?!” Today consumer reviews on sites are the norm. What’s not yet the norm — and should be — is the notion that empowering your employees to speak on behalf of your company can be a good thing.