Some argue that any attempt by an employer to disseminate business-related content via employees' personal social-media accounts lacks authenticity. I disagree; the counterargument - that employee participation in a well-managed advocacy program is not only authentic but hugely valuable to both organization and individual - carries substantially more weight with me.
Yet there is plenty of room for debate over the relative merits of brand-owned and personal social-media channels in employee advocacy; I touched upon the dilemma in a recent Beyond Engagement article
. Since writing that piece, I've reached out to two individuals with first-hand experience of both forms of advocacy. Both conversations were fascinating - and each offered some great insights for anyone trying to decide which path to follow.
My thanks go to Lisa Monarski, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing at Deloitte's U.S. member firm and to Eric Nystrom, formerly Director, Social Media and Community at Dell, and now Vice President of Brand Development at advocacy specialist EveryoneSocial. Lisa and Eric were kind enough to share their experiences of the programs at Deloitte and Dell, respectively, and to cast some light on the objectives and outcomes.
Brand-Owned Accounts Carry Corporate Responsibilities
Individuals using brand-owned social-media accounts, particularly those that include an organization's name, are generally considered to be speaking on behalf of that entity, and user activity should be subject to an effective social-media policy. Good corporate governance requires responsible employers to ensure that users receive appropriate guidance before handing over the "keys" to an account.
Monarski, responsible inter alia
for the employee-managed Twitter account @LifeAtDeloitte, explains the thinking behind the brand-owned advocacy initiative
: "We wanted to answer the question 'What's it really
like to work at Deloitte?' in a way that is entirely authentic - and seen as such. We decided to have our people answer that question."
Registering a company-owned Twitter account and turning it over to guest tweeters, chosen from employee volunteers, allows Deloitte to showcase its employees' working lives in a way that resonates with its target audience - potential hires.
"We have in place a very specific training program for @LifeAtDeloitte," says Monarski, "and we expect guest tweeters to maintain appropriate professional standards during their tenure. There are clear benefits, both in promoting Deloitte as an employer of choice, and in developing an individual's personal brand."
Use-Case Limitations Sometimes Apply
Deloitte, explains Monarski, uses @LifeAtDeloitte primarily as a recruiting tool. "Although a degree of personal brand-building results, the regular turnover of guest tweeters restricts individual exposure. Our in-house advocacy program, Ambassador Corps, which runs in parallel and is also entirely voluntary, allows employees to develop their personal brands using their own social-media accounts."
Deloitte creates a regular flow of content that is offered to Ambassador Corps members to share on LinkedIn, Twitter and Google+ via a dedicated advocacy platform. One year after its inception, the program has "hundreds" of active participants who choose whether or not to share the proffered material, most of it aligned with an individual's stated interest areas.
Nystrom confirms that at Dell, the use-case distinction is less clear-cut. Dell manages a well-publicized company-wide advocacy program channeled via personal social-media accounts; it also operates multiple corporate-owned accounts which are assigned to individuals on an opt-in basis. Participation in either case is entirely voluntary.
"Either type of account," says Nystrom, "may address any relevant use-case; Dell promotes subject-matter experts across the entire business
. In areas with a narrow, select focus, company-owned accounts may be better suited, although the governance requirements are more onerous; for wider, general-interest topics, employees' own accounts deliver a perfect mix of authenticity, authority and personality."
Exceptional Results Either Way
Both Monarski and Nystrom believe that either approach is capable of delivering exceptional results. As Nystrom made clear, the outcome is "more dependent on the commitment and the authenticity of the individual advocate than on the type of account being used." The high profile enjoyed by many of Dell's respected subject-matter experts is testimony to that sentiment.
Monarski emphasizes the benefit of either form of advocacy in an organization that relies heavily on people to provide its unique advantage. "Used correctly," she says, "social media enables Deloitte to develop personal value in the first instance; business value follows closely behind. In an organization that depends on these values to develop its commercial relationships, advocacy can be highly effective."
While it is clearly developing the professional profiles of participants, it is still too early to quantify the full impact of the Ambassador Corps program. However, Monarski confirmed that the @LifeAtDeloitte initiative had raised awareness significantly among its target audience of prospective recruits, with the number of engaged followers increased by "more than 50 percent" in the preceding 12 months.
Small wonder that both companies continue to explore the potential for advocacy in both brand-owned and personal social-media spaces.
Is It All the Same to You?
Do you find that advocacy via employees' personal accounts is more authentic? Does the use of a corporate account make the relationship less personal - or do you believe that it depends on the message? Either way, please share your experience of advocacy - particularly if you know of an exceptionally successful program. We look forward to your feedback.
Beyond Engagement is an exclusive Social Media Today column published every other Thursday.
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