In my last company, social media was a key part of our marketing strategy, and it got results. Our sales manager was very active on the HR and training forums on Xing and LinkedIn, and he made a lot of his initial contacts via conversations that he participated in on these platforms. He was supported in this by the rest of the staff, many of whom were also active on these websites, e.g. by sharing blog posts from the company or sharing their expertise in online forums. This boosted our web presence and helped spread the word about our successes. Naturally, we didn‘t have to do this, but we made an effort because we knew it would help our employer‘s fortunes (and our own to boot):
Big firms are doing it
Other firms are also discovering that their employees can make excellent brand ambassadors. For example, Nokia, Adobe, Société General and L‘Oréal all actively encourage their staff to promote the company online. However, recent research by Marie-Cécile Cervellon (from EDHEC Business School in Nice, France) and Pamela Lirio (from the University of Montreal, Canada) shows that employees may not be as committed to brand promotion as their employers might hope. According to the researchers, staff need training and encouragement before they will help raise their companies‘ profiles in the online world.
But staff are not active enough
The researchers investigated the online behaviour of employees working for a multinational consumer-goods company. The employees were based in France, Germany, Russia and Eastern Europe. Cervellon and Lirio found that very few employees were actively following their employer‘s brand on social media, sharing the employer‘s brand links or recommending its products.
The five recommendations
Cervellon and Lirio found that the problem lay in people‘s understanding of the significance of social media. Staff were often unaware of their company‘s social media policy and strategy. Based on this, the researchers have made five recommendations: employers should provide social media training, allow younger employees to set the example, encourage interest in the firm‘s brand, create interesting online content and recognise people‘s efforts. I‘ve summarised these five recommendations for you below.
1 - Provide training
Staff are more likely to build the brand if they understand why this is important and what they can do. In the research, many employees said that they didn‘t ‘like‘ or share their employer‘s posts on LinkedIn because they didn‘t think this was necessary. So, if you want your staff to act as brand ambassadors, you‘ll need to train them: You‘ll need to tell them why it is important and what they can do online, e.g. liking and sharing blog posts.
The training should include rules and expectations It is particularly important to set clear guidelines. Many employees are reluctant to use social media for work purposes because they don‘t want to infringe on their company‘s internet policy. They also often don‘t want to spend their personal time promoting the company‘s products and shouldn‘t be forced to do this. To prevent any blurring of the lines between personal and professional use of the internet, you‘ll need to set out what employees can and cannot use social media for at work. For example, while you could expect employees to use LinkedIn to promote the company, their personal Facebook profiles will be off-limits.
2 - Let younger employees set the example
Cervellon and Lirio found that younger employees were more comfortable using social media to promote the company. This is presumably because they have grown up with social media and are more used to using it. The researchers recommend using these ‘digital natives‘ to get the ball rolling. If they can show that using social media is valuable to the company‘s image, then older employees may well follow their example.
3 - Encourage interest in the brand
The more that your employees believe in your brand, the more likely they will be to promote it. One way to do this is via internal social media (e.g. Yammer or Workplace by Facebook) that allows employees to communicate with each other and share success stories via your intranet. Internal social media sites are also a great way of training employees in the use of external social media, an example of ‘learning by doing‘.
4 - Create interesting content
You can‘t expect your employees to share or promote boring or useless content. They will need interesting blog posts, useful tutorials and handy tips that they can recommend to third parties and friends. And they need to know if new content comes out. So, highlight new social media content – promote it internally (e.g. via the intranet) and let staff know if you are planning a new publicity campaign.
5 - Recognise online contributions
The researchers found that employees were more likely to act as brand ambassadors if they were praised for doing so. So, you should talk to employees about their social media activity and could possibly mention positive behaviour in performance reviews. However, staff shouldn‘t be directly rewarded for their social media activity, e.g. with financial bonuses or improved performance ratings.
Staff social media activity only works if it is seen as authentic rather than as commercial advertising. That also means that this type of promotional work needs to be done voluntarily.