The business world has a strange habit of speaking about social media as if it were a mystical land where the nature of human conversations, relationships, and emotions radically change. But they don’t.
Asking the question, “Why would employees talk about our brand on social media?” is a bit like asking, “Why do people talk to each other?”
People have always talked about their employers, and they always will. Social media is just a new medium for the same old dialogue. Your employees, particularly if they are millennials, are already talking about your company on social media. You could ignore this conversation. Or you can guide it in ways that will improve employee engagement, transform your marketing strategy, generate leads, and attract top talent.
It might shock you that 92% of millennials say that they are working for a company that makes a positive impact in the world, according to the 2014 Millennial Impact Report. They also spend an average of 4.2 hours per day social networking. Given those stats, why wouldn’t you encourage employees to talk about your company on social media?
The main objection is risk, but the risks are overblown. Our news is filled with social media embarrassments, not successes. Disastrous tweets dominate marketing blogs the same way that plane crashes, wars, natural disasters, shark attacks, and ebola dominate television. Happy news rarely makes the news. No one reports on all employees who are supporting their company on social media because it’s not juicy and attention-gripping. What is clear to thousands of companies like Dell, AT&T, and MasterCard is that doing nothing about these conversations is the biggest risk of all.
Here’s the real story behind all the fear-inspiring blunders: if you do foster social conversations and cultivate employee advocacy, your company will see ROI. LinkedIn and the Altimeter Group have found that socially engaged employees are 27% more likely to feel optimistic about their company’s future and 20% more likely to stay at their current company. These same companies are 57% more likely to get increased sales leads and 58% more likely to attract talent.
People also trust your employees far more than they trust your CEO and media representatives. The 2014 Edelman Trust Barometer found that the credibility of employees has increased 20% since 2009, shooting far ahead of trust in CEOs. Indeed, employees are considered the most credible voices on a company’s work environment, integrity, innovation, and business practices–well ahead of the CEO, academic sources, and media spokespeople. To suppress or ignore employee social activity is simply nonsensical.
Although employees are your most credible spokespeople, the overwhelming majority of workers still feel disengaged, and they don’t understand your company’s purpose well enough to talk about it publicly. According to Gallup’s 2013 State of the Global Workplace survey, just 13% of worldwide employees say they are engaged at work. The same poll found that only 41% of U.S. employees know what their company stands for and what makes its brand different from competitors’ brands.
This makes sense: What could be more disengaging than feeling like you don’t know your company well enough to talk about it with friends and family? At a high level, your employees might get why your company has a positive impact in the world, but if they can’t even share, describe, or explain that impact with stories and facts, how can they possibly feel engaged in their work? What sense of purpose could they feel in their career?
Whatever pride, passion, and fulfillment employees do feel, it’s inhibited. The publicness of social media becomes too intimidating when you don’t know what your company stands for. People fear being reprimanded rather than recognized for discussing work.
If you want employees to post with pride, you need to cultivate a social business. There are four key issues at play:
If your employees fall in the 59% of U.S. employees who don’t know much about their company, they won’t advocate on social media. Internal collaboration and networking tools obviously haven’t solved this problem. You need a team of people–perhaps in marketing or corporate social responsibility–who can record, capture, and spread compelling stories about your company.
Employees need to know what to share, and how to do it in a brand-safe way. Do you provide social guidelines that would allow employees to post without fear of repercussions? Do you provide training sessions where employees can gain skills and comfort in the social realm? If you’re training strategy is “Ready, set, tweet,” most of your employees won’t engage. Provide structure and guardrails.
How easy is it for employees to talk about the company? Someone has to take all the stories about your company’s business practices, innovations, charitable work, etc. and turn them into social content that employees can share at will.
Do you acknowledge people who share on social media? If an employee tweets and gets a shout out or re-tweet from the CEO, he or she will feel motivated and recognized, both key ingredients in engagement.
When employees go beyond their roles to become leaders in social media advocacy and they drive quantifiable business results like sales leads, can they earn a bonus or raise? Make social advocacy a source of engagement, and make engagement a source of advancement.
Social media is not a mythical land where human nature changes. It is the real world. People have genuine conversations on social media and they express pride, happiness, gratitude, and every other human emotion.
Ignoring social media only makes your company a bystander to the conversation. Denying employees a chance to express themselves on social media is a sure path to brewing frustration and disengagement.
—Dave Hawley is VP of Marketing at SocialChorus.